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

Former ‘Manson family’ member reveals she slept with Charles Manson at age 14

ABCNews.com(NEW YORK) -- Dianne Lake, the youngest member of the so-called "Manson family," is breaking her silence on her personal relationship with convicted mass murderer Charles Manson.Lake, now 64, revealed that she had sex with Manson when she wa...