BELVIDERE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The black AR-15s lined up on one wall of Goldstar OutDoors are top sellers, perfect for hunting coyotes.
Those who sell them say the semi-automatic weapons, which have become the top choice for mass shootings, are misunderstood.
“It’s a very easy rifle to pick on,” said Chris Clingenpeel, who sells guns at Goldstar OutDoors on M-46 west of Edmore. “It looks like a military rifle, so it’s easy to say it’s a military rifle. It has that kind of aggressive appearance. And because of that, it gets a kind of a bad reputation.”
According to NBC News, six of the 10 deadliest shootings in the U.S. have happened since 2012. AR-15s were used in all six, including Wednesday’s shooting that killed 17 at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The shooter, identified as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, bought the gun legally.
Wednesday’s shooting has led to renewed calls to ban AR-15s and other assault-type weapons.
When asked why anybody would need an AR-15, Clingenpeel replied: “Why do we need a car that drives faster than 55? Why do we need a phone that we can watch videos on?
“We don’t live in a world of necessity,” he continued. “So you can ask me the question, ‘Why do I need something?’ and I can come up with a snarky, funny answer to give you. But in reality, in the real world, we don’t live in a world of necessity. I don’t live on just what I need. I live on what I want.
“The fact that I want one of these doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to do something terrible with it.”
The NRA calls the AR-15 America’s most popular rifle because it is “customizable, adaptable, reliable and accurate” and “can be used in sport shooting, hunting and self-defense situations.”
Clingenpeel figures he sells three or four AR-15s a month.
Those who buy the weapons, or any long gun, need a valid photo ID and a clean background check, which usually is done the same day.
“Usually now semi-automatic hunting rifles have become the AR-15 because they’re lower recoil, they’re easier to use,” Clingenpeel said. “They’re much more popular. They’re much easier to get a hold of.”
They’ve also gone down in price. They sell for as little as $400 and can go for thousands, depending on the model, he said.
“It’s a very popular coyote rifle for like coyote hunting, varmint hunting, because it’s semi-automatic,” he said.
Perfect, he said, for quick-moving targets like coyotes.
“So you can stay in the scope and get a second shot if you missed,” he said.
Unlike the traditional bolt-action rifle, the semi-automatic fires another shot as quickly as you can pull the trigger.
The AR-15 is often sold with 30-round magazines and fires smaller .223-caliber bullets.
But it’s the intimidating look that has given it a bad name that Clingenpeel said is undeserved.
“The round is not nearly as powerful as most deer rifles,” Clingenpeel said. “It’s a much lighter bullet. In most cases, it’s not going as fast. Your grandpa’s 30-ought-6 would be significantly more powerful round than a .223.”
When President Barack Obama was in office, mass shootings led to fears of gun control and a jump in sales, Clingenpeel said. He doesn’t expect the same under President Donald Trump.
“I have kids,” Clingenpeel said. “My wife’s a teacher. I deal with it. This is a real fear of mine, so I understand where they are. I can put myself there mentally. It’s a scary thing. But the idea that the AR-15 is to blame or the average gun owner is to blame, it’s just a stupid idea.”