A semiautomatic weapon a Tempe man bought for $899 to commit mass murder at the Super Bowl was banned until three years ago.
Today, the AR-15 is one of the more popular rifles on the market.
“They’re very accurate rifles,” said Todd Rathner, a Tucson resident on the National Rifle Association board of directors. “They’re a lot of fun to shoot.”
People use them for target practice, in shooting competitions, for self-protection and in some limited cases, hunting, Rathner said.
Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center in Washington, said the AR-15 is being pushed by the industry, but he doesn’t believe it’s a good thing.
And since no one was hurt at the Super Bowl, the incident will be easily ignored, he said.
“We were lucky this time,” Sugarmann said, “and the question is: Will we be so lucky next time?”
Kurt William Havelock, 35, went to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale with the intention of shooting spectators with the semiautomatic rifle, according to court documents and testimony.
He changed his mind and turned himself into Tempe police.
Havelock is in federal custody in connection with sending eight letters explaining his plot, which was in retaliation for the Tempe City Council refusing his liquor license application.
Havelock bought an AR-15 at Scottsdale Gun Club and 250 rounds of ammunition Jan. 29 in preparation for the planned slaughter.
The AR-15 was one of 19 guns banned under the 1994 Crime Bill, which expired on Sept. 13, 2004.
FBI Special Agent Philip Thorlin testified at Havelock’s detention hearing Tuesday that the gun is the weapon of choice for the U.S. military.
But Rathner said the rifle is actually a semiautomatic version of the U.S. military’s fully automatic M-4.
Semiautomatic weapons fire one round and automatically load each time the trigger is pulled.
Automatic weapons are designed for military use and shoot without stopping as long as the trigger is pulled.
Rathner said the rifle, which fires a .223-caliber round, is considered high-powered, a designation that pertains to the trajectory of the round.
According to manufacturer Colt’s Web site, the rifle’s effective range is 600 meters.
But there are more powerful rifles, such as the .30-06, Rathner said.
He added that when people ask him what use a rifle like that would have, he replies: “It’s like asking someone why you own a Ferrari. You can’t drive 140 mph on the street.”
No one has tried to ban Ferraris for what they might do, Rathner said.
Thorlin said Havelock admitted to taking 200 rounds with him Sunday and went to Jobing.com Arena, which is within sight of the football stadium, but he couldn’t go through with it.
When federal authorities searched his car, they found the sales tag for $899, and a note to not resuscitate him.
Havelock’s attorney, Jeffrey Williams, said in court that Havelock doesn’t have a criminal record and that he began withdrawing as he took on a substantial business venture that was failing.
“He felt basically he was a failure,” Williams said.
Even after the discovery of Havelock’s plan and the shooting of five people in Kirkwood, Mo., by a man with a grudge against city officials there, Rathner and Sugarmann don’t believe much will change in the gun debate because it is a politically risky issue to support.
Rathner doesn’t expect much to happen locally either.
“Arizona is a pro-Second Amendment state,” Rathner said, “and people understand these things aren’t because of law-abiding gun owners.”