What sort of person rushes out to buy the weapon used in a mass shooting?

FILE -- In this Aug. 15, 2012 file photo, three variations of the AR-15 assault rifle are displayed at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento, Calif. While the guns look similar, the bottom version is illegal in California because of its quick reload capabilities. Omar Mateen used an AR-15 that he purchased legally when he killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub over the weekend President Barack Obama and other gun control advocates have repeatedly called for reinstating a federal ban on semi-automatic assault weapons that expired in 2004, but have been thwarted by Republicans in Congress. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,file)

This is not a post about Constitutional rights or about what sorts of laws we have or don’t have or should or shouldn’t have.

This is about the marketplace. And frankly, there’s apparently something pretty disturbing going on in the marketplace right now.

This morning on public radio, I heard a representative of a gun store say they are currently selling weapons like the one used in the Orlando massacre at a very brisk rate. That is, people are buying more of them in an hour than the store normally sells in a couple of days. Usually, he said, they sell three or four a day. Now, they’re leaping off the shelves or racks at a rate of about 10 an hour, and more than that over lunch hour.

Of course, these weapons have been very popular for years, even as we’ve had one mass murder after another using them.

I have to ask: “What sort of person sees a certain kind of weapon used in something like the Orlando massacre, and thinks to himself “I’ve gotta HAVE me one of those!“?

What goes on in such a person’s head?

Now my gun-loving friends will say, this is just a rational response to talk about once again banning such weapons — red-blooded folk want to get out there and purchase the rifle they’ve meant to get for years before it’s banned.

I’m sure it does work that way with some. But I have to ask a followup question — what is the rational reason why someone wants one? What is the circumstance that this person anticipates that calls for a large-magazine, rapid-fire weapon? Do they expect to be attacked by a herd of deer? Are they preparing for the zombie apocalypse (if so, I recommend they take a cue from Daryl Dixon and obtain a quieter weapon)?

What scenarios call for a weapon ideally suited for a target-rich environment of human beings? What normal circumstance can’t be dealt with with a bolt- or lever-action rifle, or a semi-automatic that uses five-round magazines?

What sort of nails does one drive with such a hammer? And what are the psychological processes that cause someone to want to shell out several hundred dollars for such a tool?

We’ve seen these things grow in popularity the more mass murders they are involved in. Am I wrong to see that phenomenon as kind of sick, and if so, why?

71 thoughts on “What sort of person rushes out to buy the weapon used in a mass shooting?

  1. Burl Burlingame

    Is this why gun nuts get so incensed when the weapon is misidentified by media reports? Because they want consumer guidance?

    1. Doug Ross

      No different than fetus killers who get incensed when anyone tries to protect the unborn. Oh, wait, you mean calling people fetus killers might not help the situation like calling people “gun nuts” does?

  2. Karen Pearson

    I see it as immersion in the myth of the superhero, starting with John Wayne, going through “Rambo” and now into the comic book style superhero. I don’t mean this as a put down of our troops during WWII and since; the difference is that the person who lives through all the battles is the one the little boys who see the movies identify with, They continue to carry that image through adolescence and into manhood. It informs the idea of the ability of that person to protect himself from any intruder, or even to prevent the government from coming and taking his weapons from him. The more atrocities like Orlando occur, the more he feels the need for such weapons. There’s also the iconic image of the soldier/martyr who sacrifices himself for the cause. These are the only reasons I can think of to prefer one of these weapons over a well aimed rifle, or a shotgun, or even a close range ‘belly gun.’ It’s not that most grown men actually buy into these personas intellectually, but rather that they have internalized them to the point that they don’t think about them.

    1. Tex

      Have you ever fired one of these rifles? They’re actually fun to shoot… very little recoil, accurate, easily customizable with tons of accessories. If, and I use that term loosely, things go seriously bad would you rather have a very accurate rifle that held 5 rounds or a rifle that held 30 rounds?

      Why do men buy sports cars when a Prius or Toyota Corolla will get them to their destination just as well? Why do women spend $1000 on a pair of shoes when a $20 pair from Walmart will also serve their need?

  3. Barry

    Barack Obama wasn’t named Firearms Salesperson of the Year for 8 years in a row ( a modern day record) because he’s not good at the job.

  4. Matt Bohn

    Why did John Wayne become a superpatriot after choosing not to serve in WWII? Almost all of my gun loving friends were never in the military. I agree that there is a programmed image of the hero at play, but also something more. Proving your manhood by having the big, bad AR-15? Interestingly, my grandfather and father were Army veterans (WWI and the period between Korea and Vietnam) and they disliked guns. I never served and have several in a gun safe waiting for the bad guys. I wonder if that’s my own subconscious internalization of not having served. Maybe all it takes is talk about an individual type of weapon after such a massacre to make something click in people like me that pushes them to make the purchase. Would John Wayne have one? Probably. Would a real hero like Jimmy Stewart have one. I doubt it.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      John Wayne is seen as heroic because of the parts he played. No one sees real heroes such as Jimmy Stewart — and George McGovern! — that way. Remember — SPOILER ALERT! — Jimmy didn’t shoot Liberty Valance; John Wayne did.

      Sort of in the vein of what you said…

      I would be embarrassed to buy an AR-15 or Sig Sauer MCX, or anything that looked like a military weapon. I’d feel like everyone would think, “Look at the pathetic guy playing soldier like a kid.”

      If I’m going hunting with a rifle, I’d choose a bolt-action or something that LOOKED like a hunting rifle.

      The only military weapon I’d really like to have would be an M-1 Garand, just as a nostalgia thing.

      But getting something that looks like a M-16 or M-4 military weapon would make me feel as ridiculous as if I were brandishing a German Schmeisser machine pistol (or brandishing TWO, like Clint Eastwood in “Where Eagles Dare.”)

      And it would be even more pathetic because it’s single-shot rather than full auto.

      It’s kind of like the way I get disgusted with people speaking of sports (especially football) or business or other endeavors using war metaphors. It’s just sad, and the attempt at machismo misses the mark by a mile…

      1. Matt Bohn

        If there was a zombie apocalypse, I’d go to that high alpine pasture farmhouse they hid out in before attacking the Schloss Adler in “Where Eagles Dare.” Maybe even parachute in. At night.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          … with “Schmeissers.”

          I’m finally caught up with “The Walking Dead” — that is, caught up with the end of LAST season, on Netflix. I don’t get AMC, so I haven’t seen any of this season. DON’T TELL ME ABOUT IT!

          Glad to see the survivors scored some suppressors so they can use guns without drawing more walkers.

          But I’d still rather have Daryl and his crossbow next to me than any of them…

            1. Bryan Caskey

              That was a good one, but I read it a looong time ago. Wasn’t that the one where Kelly ends up torturing the bad guy by putting him in the re-compression chamber for treating the bends?

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Yep. I think Clancy wrote it because someone bet him that he couldn’t create a sympathetic character who went around murdering and torturing people…

            2. Tex

              Making suppressors isn’t all that difficult, just look at YouTube for instructions. There’s an adaptor you can buy that allows you to create a very good suppressor using a spin on vehicle oil filter. Get caught with the adaptor and no $200 tax stamp, you get to spend the next 7 years up on Broad River Road.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          And Matt…

          Why the alpine farmhouse? Why not the Schloss Adler itself? Once you’d cleared out all the Nazi walkers (like the bonus level of Call of Duty: World at War), all you’d have to do is keep them from coming up on the cable-car thing. Of course, you’d have to have running generators to keep that running so you could make supply runs…

          1. Matt Bohn

            Almost makes we want to try it and become king of that awesome castle. Totally protected and with the experimental helicopter there just cut the cables and fly out and refuel/ resupply as needed.

      2. Tex

        Brad, go shoot 200 rounds out of an M1 Garand and then go shoot 200 rounds out of an AR-15. Come back and tell us which one you enjoyed shooting more during the last 20 rounds.

        Some of us enjoy guns, sports, and vehicles as you do books, politics, and private clubs. I have interest in the former group, little to none in the latter.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I enjoy shooting, just not enough to go out and invest money in it.

          And like Bryan, I like plinking with a .22, with something like soda cans as my prey.

          Having something that LOOKS like a soldier’s weapon, but isn’t, doesn’t interest me.

      3. Barry

        Brad- with that logic, you’ve convinced me to go out this weekend and snag an AR for myself.

        Thanks for the kick in the pants.

    2. Barry

      My grandfather was in WW2 and loved guns of all kinds. I have several of his guns now.

      My dad was in the army for 22 years. He has numerous guns, including a new AR 15.

      My first cousin, A now retired Army Captain, spent 2 years in Iraq. I’ve lost count of the guns he has of all types.

  5. Bob Amundson

    We don’t know the answer to Brad’s question. That is a big problem, and this ignorance is partly by design. Since the 1990s, Congress has prevented various federal agencies from gathering more detailed data on gun violence. And this ignorance has major consequences. It’s awfully hard to stop gun violence if we can’t even agree on basic facts about how and why it happens.

  6. Karen Pearson

    Thank you Bob. If they won’t do anything else useful in the way of gun control, can they not remove the ban gathering data? Last night I tried to get an idea of how many small children had been involved in gun accidents in the past year vs. how many times a civilian has successfully used a gun to stop a crime from occurring. Good luck trying to find a specific verifiable answer!

  7. Bryan Caskey

    To answer your original question, I think there are lots of people out there who want to buy one for self-defense in the home. I’d be interested to see a poll of AR owners. I’m sure one has to be out there somewhere.

    Also, if you get into competitive shooting (as a sport) they are also pretty much what everyone uses.

    I know many, many normal, rational guys (who aren’t even gun guys like me) who went out and bought an AR (or something similar) following attempts to ban, and for the most part those rifles have been sitting in gun safes with less than 50 rounds put through them.

    The most fun I have shooting is with my shotguns breaking clays or with a .22 doing some plinking.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      What makes them good for competitive shooting? Why not something like a nice deer rifle?

      I’m probably showing my ignorance, but I think of a well-made long, bolt-action rifle as being more accurate than a stubby, high-tech-looking thing made to put a lot of rounds downrange quickly.

      Maybe I think that because I’m picturing sniper rifles. (Some of the Rangers in “Saving Private Ryan” had Thompsons, but the sharpshooter had a long, bolt-action rifle with a scope). But beyond that, it just seems intuitive.

      1. Tex

        You’re going to look awful foolish at a 3-gun competition with a “Fudd gun” (Elmer Fudd reference).

    2. Tex

      Actually an AR-15 is a horrible rifle for home defense. You want something that won’t go through multiple walls before stopping. For home defense, give me a shotgun with dove and quail loads… it’s not going to cut the guy in half like buckshot, but it’s damn sure going to get his attention when he starts leaking at an alarming rate.

        1. Claus

          I think with a tube extension you can get 8 rounds in an 870… that’s about 5-6 more than you’d ever need with a home intruder.

  8. JesseS

    Well the obvious answer is people who don’t understand supply and demand.

    I dunno. The first time I saw an AR in the wild it was a friend’s neighbor, a policeman who was in full uniform, heading to his car. I’ve been around guns all my life, but I wont lie. It kinda creeped me out. Why are the police going to war?

    Personally I never saw the appeal of that type. Just a gun with more parts to fall off.

  9. Burl Burlingame

    I’m able to hit a bottle cap at 50 feet with my pump-action BB rifle, so I’m happy with that. And sorry, gun nuts, I’ll say “gun fetishists” next time. A gun is a tool, like a shovel, but you don’t see people online whingeing about the exact description of shovels, or going into deep shovel fantasies about what shovels can do. An AR 15 for home defense? If you need one of those, you need to leave that neighborhood.

      1. bud

        How about just radicals and leave it at that. It serves no purpose to trash an entire religion. No one refers to Dylan Roof as a radical Christian crusader.

        1. Bart

          bud, I generally leave your comments alone and enjoy the difference in ideology and philosophy involving politics and social issues but this one is off the rail by your comment, “No one refers to Dylan Roof as a radical Christian crusader.”

          So far, I have read nothing that would lead anyone to believe Roof is a Christian, much less a radical crusader even though he was associated with the Lutheran church. In short, he was/is a racist who wanted to start a race war and Christianity had nothing to do with it. There were no reports that he shouted “Onward Christian soldiers” while he was slaughtering innocent people in cold blood. No reports that he made any statement that he was killing in the name of God or using a Christian equivalent of “Allahu Akbar”.

          As for indentifying the absolute majority of mass killings over the past few decades, the truth is that they are radical Islamic jihadists who are responsible for most of them. The others were commited by individuals who were not associated with any particular religion, especially Christianity or Islam, but they were individuals with serious emotional problems and if the law had allowed the Sandy Hook killer to be institutionalized as his mother wanted, the children and the mother may still be alive today.

          If any religion spawns radicals the way Islam does, then it is not a problem identifying them with Islam when they commit their atrocities. And to be fair, if Christianity spawned radicals who commited the same number of atrocities, then it would be fair to assign the label, “Christian radicals” to the individuals committing the heinous acts of violence and death .

  10. Karen Pearson

    I can easily hit the center of a target at 50 yards with a good rifle (not far, I admit, but a good deal further than my property line). For mid-range give me a shotgun. If someone approaches too closely, a ‘belly gun’ works well. If I haven’t hit someone in 5 shots, it’s unlikely that I’ll do any more harm to him with more.

    1. Barry

      ARs are simply more fun to shoot than a shotgun.

      A lot of folks, especially women, can’t handle the recoil of a shotgun.

      1. Mark Stewart

        Oh that’s right; we need assault weapons because they are easier to shoot for our purdy little women.

        That makes perfect sense. Or propably does to some. But I am not one of those people. And I have the sneeking suspicion that the vast majority of women would not agree with your presumption; had you asked any of them. I’m

        1. Bryan Caskey

          As women have become more independent in every area of their lives over time, it’s only natural that personal protection is one of these areas. I think you could ask a lot of women who bought guns, the “why” question and they would tell you it’s for their family’s protection and their own. They would probably also tell you that owning and being able to competently handle a firearm is empowering.

            1. Bryan Caskey

              Oh, I changed my e-mail address. My old one was from a long time ago, and I finally got with the program and got a gmail address. Sort of like how I didn’t get a Blu-Ray player until recently.

              I’ll see what I can do to get it back; I really liked it.

              All these horseless carriages are amazing, too.

        2. Barry

          Well Mark – you missed the point again- but since you got carried away and went on and on – I’ll add

          I’ve asked my wife who has shot ARs, pistols (my 9mm and 38 to be specific), and my 12 gauge, and even my WW2 era 22 rifle.

          She can handle all of them quite well even at 5’3″ 110 pounds- except for the shotgun.

          The shotgun in her hands isn’t safe- so she doesn’t shoot it anymore – by HER CHOICE.

          Quit making assumptions. You don’t sound reasonable. .

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Even weirder, I can only see Test 2 inside the guts of the blog, not on the public interface.

        Tourists from the future who don’t want us to know time travel exists have blocked it!

        I feel like those guys who first detected gravitational waves…

  11. Barry


    34 people have been murdered in Chicago so far in June. (That number needs to be updated because the last 3 days isn’t included in the total). Many, many more have been hospitalized and severely injured.

    No cable news remote broadcasts from the south side.

    Not too many political speeches about it either.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      It’s almost like it’s a cultural-violence problem, not a gun problem.


      1. Barry

        Or we could play James Clyburn’s game and just blame it all on guns.

        No one is every responsible for their own actions. It’s always someone else’s fault for Clyburn.

        He’s so disingenuous. It’s impossible for me to watch him talk about any issue these days.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Actually, Bryan, not even close.

        With a “cultural-violence” problem, a nut walks into a nightclub and starts attacking people with his bare hands, and probably gets the worse of it himself. Or he uses a knife and, if he’s strong and has good reflexes, manages to cut up and maybe kill a couple of people before he is overpowered.

        With a military-style rifle with a large magazine, firing ammunition made for killing people, he kills 49 people and wounds another 50 or so.

        Note the high kill rate. Used to be that the standard on a battlefield was sort of what Tom Hanks said in “Saving Private Ryan:” X number killed, “times two wounded.”

        With modern medicine, the ratio of people who survive their wounds has increased substantially.

        Not in this instance, though. Perhaps because he had the firepower to hold off help long enough for half of his victims to bleed out.

        The motive may have been a “cultural-violence problem.” The result was due to a “gun problem.”

        1. Bryan Caskey

          We’re already up to 34 in Chicago in June. At this rate, the death toll will exceed 50 by the end of the month.

          Why is it that the people there kill each other there at such a high rate, and you can go about 25 miles in any direction and the murder rate plummets?

          1. bud

            We can all point to some category of deaths to deflect attention away from a very real problem. Yes there is too much killing in Chicago. There are also far too many drunk driving deaths, ptsd related suicides and cancer deaths from industrial pollution . But we just had 49 innocent people killed by a radical who easily purchased sufficiently powerful armament to fire 24 rounds in 9 seconds. And this won’t change as long as people have a fetish for these things. Too bad more people have to die before common sense prevails.

            1. Barry

              Your “common sense” is another person’s baloney.

              That is not personal to you. That is the way it works these days.

  12. Bob Amundson

    I hope Brad’s readers will “google” disaffected youth and violence. It’s not just guns, it’s a culture of (mostly) young men not feeling part of society. The reasons they feel that way are numerous. They believe violence is power, and acts of violence are the only way people will listen.

    Our country is more segregated than 20 years ago, especially neighborhoods and schools. Diversity helps with the assimilation process, but much of the modern world is headed in the wrong direction. IMHO, too much xenophobia in a very “connected” world.

    1. Barry

      Many have no hope.

      A s we know, many are raised by single parents – or no parents. If they have parents, many times the parents aren’t in a position to provide proper guidance.

      They live in terrible areas with no hope, and few mentors. The few cases where there are good role models, the role models are overwhelmed.

      People kill each other because they were”disrespected” by a stare, or a “look.”

  13. Bart

    I know individuals who own guns and they are the least likely ones to ever use one in an act of violence against a fellow human being unless threatened and even then would be hesitant to pull the trigger.

    I own several guns – pistols, rifles, and shotguns. One shotgun is an old Excel, 12 ga., single barrel with a bead sight. It is probably over 100 years old and still has wire and tape around the handle just before the trigger as a result of my Dad hitting a boar over the head with it when he charged him. My prized possession from my Dad. But, during my lifetime, only one time have I carried a loaded weapon with me when someone rang the doorbell close to midnight and we didn’t recognize the person. This was after we had been burglarized one time and had someone steal a trailer with goods worth a few thousand in the middle of the night on another occasion.

    Guns do not fascinate me to the point of being a collector and becoming an authority on the subject but I enjoy going to a gun show on occasion just to see what is out there. One can run into some interesting characters along with others who enjoy collecting firearms. It is a strange brew of humanity.

    Conversely, there are individuals who are fascinated by weapons of war, especially airplanes. One contributor to this blog is an enthusiast and is employed by a museum where war planes are displayed. This does not insinuate that if his neighbor’s dog pooped in his yard, he would get in one and straff him in retaliation, it means he likes planes, especially war planes. No need to assign an inner need for violence or a love of war to his passion for old planes.

    And, apparently the peaceful LGBT community members are now buying guns at a high rate after Orlando. Who can blame them for seeking a means for self-protection?

    Just my thoughts on the subject.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Some progress has been made in this tiny corner of the universe.

      Larger strides have occurred more generally across the country. It’s a hearts and minds campaign; not an arm-twisting rant.

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