I cringe every time one of the major news outlets tries to talk about anything even remotely technical related to firearms. They inevitably get it wrong, misinforming the public and showing that they don’t actually have anyone on staff who knows a damn thing about guns (but I bet they could go for hours about the difference between a 3- and a 4-iron). Perfect point: according to CNN the AR-15 typically uses magazines with a 5 to 15 round capacity. So, in an effort to set things straight, RF nudged me to do a brief overview of the firearms used in the Colorado massacre and I plan to be as complete and truthful about their specs and designs as possible. Because that’s what we do here . . .
Smith & Wesson M&P-15 — AR-15 Style Rifle
The S&W M&P-15 is one of the most popular commercially available variants of the most popular rifle in the United States, namely the AR-15. You can pick one up just about anywhere guns are sold and according to the guys at my local Academy store, they can’t keep the things on the shelf.
The AR-15 rifle design is based on the 1950’s design by Eugene Stoner that eventually became the M-16, the standard infantry rifle of the United States since the Vietnam war. The primary features of the rifle are a the ability to accept detachable magazines and a semi-automatic action — one press of the trigger = one bullet — that removes the need to manually load each round.
The original magazine issued to troops with the M-16 held 20 rounds (CNN: 20 > 15), but the most common modern magazines hold 30. The rifle is designed to make changing magazines quick and easy, taking as little as one second to perform the action by a trained shooter.
The biggest benefit to the AR-15 platform: its ability to be easily altered to suit the shooter. Whether it’s changing out the aiming mechanism or installing a custom stock, the modifications take relatively little time and can be performed by the end user without many tools.
The AR-15 platform traditionally uses the 5.56x45mm round, which is a light projectile that travels at high velocity. It was designed to provide accurate fire at longer distances while being lightweight enough to allow the soldier to carry more ammunition. It does this at the expense of kinetic energy, meaning that it does not penetrate targets as well as other heavier cartridges. However the speedy projectiles make it ideal for varmint and small game hunting, and the AR-15 platform has exploded in this area being used to hunt everything from groundhogs to the smaller deer of the east coast and Texas.
The ease of use, accuracy and ammunition capacity of the AR-15 has made it a favorite among hunters, competition shooters and sportsmen across the country. The Smith & Wesson M&P-15 is particularly popular due to its low cost — the “standard” rifle runs around $1,300, but there are models available for around $800.
Glock 22 and Glock 23 Handguns
Glock handguns are the most popular brand of handguns in the United States. Originally designed in 1979 to replace the aging Walther handguns of the Austrian armed forces, the gun has been extremely popular among law enforcement and civilian shooters in the US and around the world. All of their models are based on a standard design and modified to accept different calibers, different barrel lengths and other features.
The standardized design leads to a number of cost saving benefits. First, since the design isn’t radically different from one version to the next, the design and R&D costs are reduced which brings down the sticker price of the firearm. Second, since the guns are based on the same design, they can share magazines between the different models. This allows someone to purchase one pool of magazines and use them between a number of different handguns instead of buying new mags each time.
The most popular feature of this handgun is the integrated safety. Instead of having a manual external safety that the shooter would need to disengage before firing, the gun instead is designed to be incapable of firing until a finger (or something rather solid) is pressing against the trigger. This provides all of the benefits of a safety while making the gun extremely easy to use.
Despite the polymer (plastic) frame, the handgun is remarkably rugged which, combined with the low cost of ownership and interchangeability of the accessories, make it the most popular handgun in the U.S.
The Glock 22 is a “full size” handgun, which means it has a longer grip and barrel for better handling and accuracy. The Glock 23 is a “compact” version designed for concealed carry use. Both use the .40 S&W cartridge which was designed to bridge the gap between the smaller 9mm Luger cartridge and the big .45ACP round by giving the shooter the power of a .45 with the magazine capacity of a 9mm. Both of these handguns are currently issued and in use by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as well as the U.S. Marshals Service.
Both guns are in the area of $600.
Remington 870 Express Tactical Shotgun
The Remington 870 is the most popular model of shotgun in the United States. Originally designed in 1951, it has been adapted for use in every facet of the shooting sports world from trap shooting to bird hunting. It’s also a favorite among law enforcement agencies due to its rugged design, amazing reliability and low cost – this model costs only about $500.
The 870 is a pump action shotgun, meaning that each time the gun is fired the forward handguard needs to be “pumped” backward and then forward to remove the spent cartridge and insert a new one. The shells are held in a tubular magazine below the barrel and are fed into the chamber automatically when the gun is pumped. The standard design for a Remington 870 holds five rounds, but the Tactical version holds seven. Also unique to the Tactical version are “ghost ring” sights, making it easier to aim, and a ported choke which reduces the recoil felt by the shooter.
The firearm used in the Aurora shootings was a 12-gauge shotgun, “gauge” being a reference to the diameter of the barrel (it’s derived by figuring out the largest sphere of lead that can be rolled down the barrel and then calculating how many such spheres would be required to equal one pound of lead). Like everything else here, 12-gauge is the most popular caliber for shotguns.
The Remington 870 Express Tactical retails for $570, but Chinese clones are available for as little as $200.
And that’s the whole truth about the guns used in the Colorado shooting.