Although AR-15-style rifles have been sold commercially since the 1960s, for a long time there was barely a market for them. In 1990, they accounted for just 1.2 percent of all firearms manufactured in the United States. But starting in the mid-2000s, after the assault weapons ban expired, their appeal grew. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq gave AR-15-style rifles a certain cachet — people wanted the same guns the soldiers were using. The spike in sales was also influenced by politics, including the election of the country’s first Black president. Concerns about new gun-control measures, coupled with fears about where the country was heading, caused a surge in demand. According to a recent poll commissioned by The Washington Post, about one in 20 Americans now own an AR-15-style rifle. The Post cited a gun-industry estimate that there are currently around 20 million AR-15-style rifles in private hands, although that number was not confirmed independently. They have become so popular that they are often referred to these days as “America’s rifle.” Representative Barry Moore, an Alabama Republican, recently introduced legislation to designate the AR-15 “the national gun of the United States.” Some Congressional Republicans have taken to wearing AR-15 lapel pins.
AR-15-style rifles have been involved in some of the worst mass shootings that the United States has experienced over the last decade or so, including those in Las Vegas; Orlando; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Parkland, Fla.; and San Bernardino, Calif. In the view of Koskoff and others, the firearms industry bears considerable blame for this — not only because it continues to sell AR-15-style rifles but also because gun advertising has become increasingly provocative. Many ads for AR-15-style rifles play up their lethality, even glamorize it. A lot of the marketing seems directed at one group in particular: young men.