ORLANDO, Fla. -- It took us 38 minutes to walk out of a gun shop with a death machine.
Just two days after Omar Mateen used a semi-automatic rifle to murder 49 innocent people and injure dozens more, we were able to purchase an AR-15 -- a rifle similar to Mateen’s that has been used in several other mass shootings on American soil -- in less time than it takes to buy a cart full of groceries.
We would have been locked and loaded within five minutes, but the gun shop employee we spoke to said the queue on background checks was longer than usual because people were scrambling to buy AR-15s in the wake of the shooting. That’s both terrifying and unsurprising -- gun sales often skyrocket after mass shootings.
But the ease with which we purchased our AR-15, a Vietnam-era gun hailed by the military as being the perfect killing machine, was surreal. This, despite the fact that Florida Gov. Rick Scott had declared a state of emergency in Orange County, which includes Orlando.
On any given day, regardless of whether your town has endured a horrific tragedy, it’s not hard to purchase a weapon of mass murder like we did in most of America. A reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News was able to get one in just seven minutes in Pennsylvania on Monday.
Within seconds, we had it in our hands: A rifle that weighs less than a small watermelon and can, like the MCX Sig Sauer that Mateen used, easily fire several dozen rounds in less than 10 seconds. Our Diamondback DB15's killing power is striking, and at $644, it’s a relatively affordable murder weapon.
Gun shop employees were happy to discuss lethality. When another customer looking to purchase a small, .22-caliber handgun noted that it wouldn’t fare well against a “6-foot-3, 350 pound man,” the employee agreed.
“You’d have to hit him in the neck or the heart,” said the employee, whom we aren’t naming for this story.
He went on to joke with the customer that he should either pick a bigger gun or use the .22 to “shoot him in the stomach 15 times, that’d really piss him off.”
Behind him, the TV blared Fox News coverage of the massacre at Pulse nightclub, located nearby. On the wall, a framed photo of President Barack Obama with the caption, “Firearm Salesman Of The Year,” hung next to an array of other long rifles, some of them higher caliber than the AR-15, and some of them more affordable, too.
Semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 have been used in several of the most deadly shooting rampages in the United States in recent years, even before the attack in Orlando. The killers behind the mass shootings in San Bernardino, California, the elementary school at Newtown, Connecticut, and the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, all used AR-15s.
They’re not the cheapest rifles around -- another, higher-caliber carbine hung on the wall at our shop for half the price. But the National Rifle Association calls the AR-15 the most popular weapon in the U.S. "It is customizable, adaptable, reliable and accurate," the organization says on its blog.
Shop workers told us we’d have to wait if we wanted to buy a smaller gun. There’s a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases in Florida, but that rule does not apply to rifles.
The employee made some small talk, declaring that all guns fall under one of three classifications: Leisure, defense and hunting. We aren’t sure which category Mateen’s gun falls under.
Under any of the gun shop employee’s definitions, there seems no reason for a weapon that can fire 10 or more bullets in quick succession. The AR-15 and its close cousins are not made to hunt deer. They’re made to kill people.
All it took to attain one was a driver’s license (the one we used was from out of state) and a few minutes to wait for the background check to clear. We signed state-issued proof of sale documents that asked whether we were felons or drug addicts, and where we lived.
Waiting for the background check was the hardest part -- and that only involved a few minutes of idle time. We requested data from the state Department of Law Enforcement on the current volume of background checks for similar guns, but did not get an immediate response. The department has been overwhelmed by public records requests since the shooting, a spokeswoman said.
Nothing that we or the store employees did was illegal or unusual. You can buy semi-automatic rifles at several stores in the Orlando area.
As of this writing, we have the same firepower that Mateen had when he opened fire at one of Orlando’s most famous gay clubs. We don’t have any ammunition, though -- the shop ran out of .223-caliber rounds.
We plan to return the gun. Eventually, it will join countless other rifles of its kind on the legal, Great American gun market.
UPDATE: 6/15 -- We attempted to return the AR-15 to the shop where we purchased it. Despite having a return policy, they refused. So we opted to turn the gun over to Orlando police, who said they would have it destroyed.
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