Orlando Gunman Used the Kind of Assault Rifle Popular Among Mass Shooters

iStock/Thinkstock(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- The man suspected of killing at least 50 people at the gay nightclub in Orlando apparently used the kind of semi-automatic assault rifle that has become a weapon of choice among mass shooters.

He had a .223 caliber AR-type rifle and a Glock handgun on him at the time of the shooting early Sunday morning, law enforcement sources told ABC News.

The AR-15 was used by the couple in San Bernardino, California, who killed 14 people at a workplace holiday party in December. Similarly, the man who mowed down 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 was armed with an AR-15.

And the man who killed 20 first-grade children and six school staff members at an elementary school in Newton, Connecticut, in 2012 used the same kind of weapon.

The AR-15 was designed for military use in the 1950s but has since become popular among civilian gun owners. And, increasingly, it is becoming notorious for its use in massacres.

Richard Frankel, ABC News contributor and former FBI special agent in charge of counterterrorism in New York, said the AR-15 may be attractive to mass shooters because it doesn’t require much training to use and is easy to get.

“It’s very easy to operate,” Frankel said. “It’s easy to load, point and shoot.”

The gun is also sold by many U.S. gun retailers, he added.

Frankel said it's possible that some who are intent on killing a lot of people copy other mass shooters' weapons of choice.

The AR-15 can easily hold 30 rounds at a time, Frankel said. It shoots "as fast as your finger goes," he said.

A shooter could easily fire off 30 rounds in less than a minute and then quickly reload to fire off more, he said.

The capacity of the rifle to inflict maximum damage in minimal time is part of the basis of a lawsuit by families of victims in the Newtown shooting against the manufacturer of the particular gun used in that incident.

"There is one civilian activity in which the AR-15 reigns supreme: mass shootings," the parents allege in their complaint filed in October in a Connecticut court. "Time and again, mentally unstable individuals and criminals have acquired an AR-15 with ease, and they have unleashed the rifle's lethal power into our streets, our malls, our places of worship, and our schools."

Remington Outdoor Co., the parent company of the manufacturer of the AR-15, has declined to comment to ABC News, citing the pending litigation, but did cite a 2005 federal law in which gun manufacturers and dealers are inoculated from liability after mass shootings.

The National Rifle Association contends that the AR-15 is popular among ordinary, law-abiding gun owners because it is "customizable, adaptable, reliable and accurate that can be used in sport shooting, hunting and self-defense situations," according to an NRA blog entry in January 2016.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Check Also

Charlottesville mayor to issue statement on Robert E. Lee statue

Charlottesville mayor to issue statement on Robert E. Lee statueMark Wilson/Getty Images(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer will issue a statement Friday afternoon after canceling a news conference at which he was expected to "make a major announcement" regarding the local statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the legacy of the woman killed during a protest sparked by the city's plans to remove the statue.

His news conference had been scheduled for noon on Friday, but the mayor tweeted Friday morning that "we are canceling today’s press conference and instead issuing a statement in the afternoon."

FYI all: we are canceling today’s press conference and instead issuing a statement in the afternoon. Stay tuned.

— Mike Signer (@MikeSigner) August 18, 2017

FYI, the reason for the change is we decided a statement rather than a press event was the best medium for the ideas I want to convey today.

— Mike Signer (@MikeSigner) August 18, 2017

The statement comes six days after a Unite the Right rally sparked by Charlottesville's plan to remove the Lee statue from a local park turned deadly.

The rally was attended by neo-Nazis, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members. They were met with hundreds of counterprotesters, which led to street brawls and violent clashes.

A driver plowed into counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring several others. The suspected driver is in custody, facing charges including second-degree murder.

Despite the "painful" event, "we’re not going to let them define us,” Signer told ABC News earlier this week of the agitators.

"They’re not going to tell our story," he said. "We’re going to tell our story. And outsiders -- their time has come and gone. This city is back on their feet, and we’re going to be better than ever despite this."

Signer compared his hopes for Charlottesville's recovery to the aftermath of the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting in June 2015 that killed nine people. The gunman in that attack said he wanted to start a race war, but the tragedy instead united the city.

"There’s a memorial right now in front of Charlottesville City Hall that’s flowers and a heart that talks about the love that we have here. Those are the images that are going to replace these horrific ones from this weekend. That’s the work that we have as a country," Signer said.

"That’s what happened in Charleston. There were those horrible images of those people bloodied and killed and weeping from the church. But they were replaced quickly, steadily, by the work that started to happen. By people who said, 'You’re not going to tell our story for us. We’re going to tell our story.'

"And that’s what’s happening in this community. That’s my work as the mayor here -- is not to allow these hateful people who just don’t get this country to define us," he said. "And they’re not going to define us."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.