JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Three weeks after the tragic school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the gun debate is getting more heated than ever.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other lawmakers across the country have called for a ban on what they call “assault rifles” like the AR-15. But those against the ban say the guns themselves aren't to blame; it's the people.
An AR-15, which the National Rifle Association calls America's most popular firearm, has been used in some of the most deadly mass shooting across the country in recent years. With so much controversy regarding the rifle. We wanted to know exactly how it works, and find out about the AR-15's intended purpose. News4Jax went inside the Jacksonville company that makes the AR-15 to learn more.
What is the AR-15?
Joint Force Enterprises in Jacksonville manufactures the AR-15 as well as other high-end rifles.
Co-owner Elvis Rey is a U.S. Air Force veteran, who worked with security forces and then went on to work as a government contractor. He’s also a gun safety instructor.
With Rey's guidance, we fired the semi-automatic AR-15. The gun seemed powerful and precise.
Rey also showed us a firearm with a high-regulated suppressor, which some people call a silencer.
“As you’re going to see, it’s not like Hollywood-style where you don’t hear anything,” Rey said.
The suppressor made it quieter and muffled, but it was far from silent.
To compare different firearms, Rey had us fire a semi-automatic 9 millimeter Glock handgun. In the same matter of time, we were able to fire approximately the same amount of ammunition as the AR-15.
WATCH: Vic tests firearms
“Their triggers work the same way,” Rey explained about the Glock handgun versus the AR-15. “As fast as you can pull your trigger is as fast as the rounds will go out. You were shooting fast, you were shooting slow, but with the rifle, because of the longer barrel, obviously it is going to be a lot easier and more accurate.”
- The handgun and rifle can both have higher-capacity magazines and the 9mm bullet is actually larger than the AR-15’s .223 caliber ammunition.
- Most AR-15s hold up to 30 rounds per magazine, which is more than a typical handgun.
- “AR” does not stand for assault rifle, as some have stated. It stands for ArmaLite, the original manufacturer.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, or NSSF:
- AR-15s may look like military weapons, but they actually function like traditional hunting rifles.
- It’s no more powerful than any other rifle with the same caliber.
Advocates say it’s the modern sporting rifle used for competitive target shooting, and its accuracy and reliability make it popular for hunting.
Vic Micolucci: “Is this one of these deadlier than the other in your opinion?”
Rey: “Absolutely not. They both can kill a person.”
Will Bright is a long-time sport shooter and co-owner of Joint Forces Enterprises with Rey.
Bright: “A weapon as a weapon, if it is in the wrong hands, if it’s used incorrectly.”
Vic: “We keep hearing this again and again, will. The AR-15 is the weapon of choice in these mass shootings. Do you have any reason as to why?”
Bright: “The only thing that I can say is there are many other platforms the do the exact same thing. The AR-15 just happened to look different and aggressive and unfortunately people have grabbed onto that concept.”
Both Bright and Rey said they follow all the rules and regulations, and will always turn away someone who doesn't fit the criteria of a responsible gun owner.
“We go by the book for everything,” said Bright.
As gun makers, the two said they do wish they had more access to mental health records and do want the laws strengthened when it comes to who can pass a background check. They also said they believe better security and training will make schools and public places safer.
“Yes, it is our second amendment right to be able to carry one of these with us,” said Rey. "Should there be a stricter policy? Absolutely. I think that we can polish up some of the laws and regulations.”
AR-15, other gun legislation
The gun debate is nothing new, but some lawmakers are specifically targeting the AR-15 as it has been used in some of the most deadly mass shootings across the country. These shootings include:
- Feb. 14 to kill 17 at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida
- Nov. 5, 2017 to kill 26 at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas
- Oct. 1, 2017 to kill 58 at the outdoor concert in Las Vegas
- June 12, 2016 to kill 49 at Pulse nightclub in Orlando
- Dec. 14, 2012 to kill 27 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut
- July 20, 2012 to kill 12 at the Century 18 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado
Proposed gun reform laws have been in the spotlight at both the state and federal level following the Parkland school shooting Feb. 14th.
In the Florida legislature, two high-profile bills have been debated in the final days of the legislative session:
- CS/SB 7026: Cited as the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act," the bill addresses school safety, as well as proposing changes to state gun laws, including age restrictions, restrictions for people who have been committed to a mental institution, and prohibitions on bump stocks.
- HB 7101: A public safety bill in the Florida House, similar to the Senate bill, which prohibits firearm sales to those under 21, expands a 3-day waiting period, prohibits bump stocks, and authorizes law enforcement to seize firearms and ammunition owned by someone examined under the Baker Act who has made a credible threat against another person.
At the federal level, a number of bills aimed at gun reform or school security have been introduced since the Parkland shooting, and other bills previously introduced have been getting added attention:
- S. 2492: NICS Denial Notification Act, cosponsored by Sens. Nelson and Rubio, provides for reporting to state/local law enforcement when the national instant criminal background check system indicates someone has tried to lie to buy a gun.
- H.R. 5134: STOP Straw Purchases Act
- H.R. 5106: Investor Choice Against Gun Proliferation Act
- H.R. 5103: Gun Violence Prevention & Safe Communities Act of 2018
- H.R. 5088: No MAGA Act (No More Atrocities with Guns Act)
- H.R. 5087, Assault Weapons Ban of 2018, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), and H.R. 5077, Assault Weapons Ban of 2018, introduced by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Florida). In the Senate, S. 2095, Assault Weapons Ban of 2017, was introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) on Nov. 8, 2017.
- H.R. 5090: Raise the Age Act
- S. 2495: STOP School Violence Act of 2018, introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and cosponsored by Sens. Nelson and Rubio. A similar House bill, H.R. 4909, was introduced by Rep. John Rutherford (R-Florida) on January 30th.
- S. 2135: Fix NICS Act of 2017, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Dec. 6, 2017, and cosponsored by Sens. Rubio and Nelson. The bill, which aims to fix the national instant criminal background check system, was mentioned by Sen. Rubio as part of his plan to address gun violence in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
Products intended to help keep students safe
As the gun debate continues, companies are coming forward with products to keep students safer.
R2P Innovations, based in Goose Creek, South Carolina, unveiled its bulletproof classroom door last week.
The company's president said the door is designed specifically for classrooms and during a test, the door stopped ammunition from an AR-15, a shotgun, 9 millimeter pistol and an FN SCAR 17.
Another product promising to help keep students safe from gunfire is a bulletproof backpack. Many companies are making them, including Guard Dog Security based in Sanford, Florida.
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