Controversy surrounds the popular AR-15 rifle

The weapon has come under fire after being used in the recent shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.

By Kim Peterson Apr 26, 2013 12:38PM
The AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America, with a reported 4 million in circulation. And it may be the most controversial firearm in the country as well, after being used in the tragic mass killings in Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn.

It looks like a machine gun, but it's not, said CNBC's Brian Sullivan. It's a semi-automatic rifle with one bullet used per trigger pull. Gun control advocates say it's dangerous and was designed to brutally destroy anything in its range. "The real problem is that we allow that kind of firepower to come into a theater or into a first-grade class," one former NRA member told CNBC.
Sullivan has a new special on the network exploring the rise of the AR-15 in this country. The rifle has become "the lightning rod of the gun control debate," he said in this video.

The rifle is becoming increasingly popular with women, too, though they are still make up a small percentage of buyers. Mostly, the gun is still referred to as a "Barbie doll for men" because of all the accessories you can get to customize it.Owner of Ade's Gun Shop, Emily Atkinson, shoulders a Stag Arms 5.56 AR-15 rifle at her shop on Jan. 2, 2013 (© Jebb Harris/The Orange County Register/ZUMA Press/Corbis)

Several companies make the AR-15, including Smith & Wesson (SWHC) and Bushmaster. And gun enthusiasts have been snapping up the rifle recently, worried that new gun control measures proposed in Congress might limit their ability to buy the weapon in the future.

"Right now they are popular because everyone is afraid of what is going to happen in the very near future with our government and possibly taking them away from us," a New York gun shop owner told USA Today. "Overall, it's just a fun gun to go out and shoot."

Sullivan also talked to Cody Wilson, whom Mashable calls "the world's most notorious 3-D printing gunsmith." Wilson is developing technology to print plastic parts of a gun using a 3-D printer. He's a law student at the University of Texas, and has received a license to make and sell guns from the federal government.

"We're gonna be flirting with the edge of detectability," he told Mashable. Wilson says he's close to making a 3-D printed handgun and AR-15.

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