How the AK-47 and AR-15 Evolved Into Rifles of Choice for Mass Killers

Tools of Modern Terror, New York Times, C.J. Chivers, June 2016
Variants of the AR-15 were used in the mass killings in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, and by sympathizers of the Islamic State in San Bernardino. An MCX, a recently introduced military-style rifle designed for the Special Forces but available in semiautomatic form for civilians, was used by the lone gunman who attacked a nightclub in Orlando in June.

Semiautomatic Kalashnikovs (AK-47) are also part of the mass-shooting routine. The gunman in the 1989 schoolyard shooting in Stockton, Calif., which killed five children and wounded dozens more, attacked his victims with a semiautomatic Chinese Kalashnikov. His crime was part of the impetus for bans on assault-style weapons at the state and national level. The Army veteran who killed five police officers in Dallas in July used a semiautomatic Kalashnikov. It had been made at the original AK-47 plant in Russia to be legal in the West and appeal to hunting and sporting markets.

Among the principal movers of Kalashnikovs has been the Pentagon, which bought them by untold thousands for proxy forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon also distributed tens of thousands of M-16s and the shorter M-4 carbine based on the AR-15 design, to the same forces. Many of these forces failed, yielding their rifles to bazaars or foes, making ever more weapons available on unregulated markets and for dangerous hands.

Today the Kalashnikov and AR-15 variants remain the most commonly seen weapons on modern battlefields; their use is central to almost every war. They are a staple of insurgency and terrorism and all but fundamental to the grim routine of mass shootings. The Islamic State has killed far more people in Europe with bullets than with bombs, and controls territory in multiple countries in part through its military rifle stocks.

Governments have done little to stop the spread of this class of weapons. Often, as in the case of the United States, they have contributed to it. Acts of crime, terror and oppression with Kalashnikovs and AR-15 descendants, endured by civilians under withering fire, have been hard-wired into our times. There is no end in sight.
Tools of Modern Terror, New York Times, C.J. Chivers, June 2016