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New numbers show that Americans own almost 18 million AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles

'The Modern Sporting Rifle continues to be the most popular centerfire rifle sold in America today'

George Rose/Getty Images

AR-15s and other similar rifles may remain a key target of anti-gun politicians and activists, but new firearms industry production numbers indicate that they're still incredibly popular among American gun owners.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation — the trade association for the firearms industry — put out a numbers report on Wednesday indicating that 17.74 million modern sporting rifles are currently privately owned in the United States. Furthermore, the report found that a 54 percent majority of all rifles produced in 2017 were modern sporting rifles.

The NSSF's website explains that the term "modern sporting rifle" refers to "today's very popular semiautomatic rifle designs, including the AR-15 and its offspring" which have been legally sold for civilian use since the 1960s.

"These figures show the industry that America has a strong desire to continue to purchase firearms for lawful purposes," NSSF president Joe Bartozzi said in a statement released alongside the numbers. "The Modern Sporting Rifle continues to be the most popular centerfire rifle sold in America today and is clearly a commonly-owned firearm with more than 17 million in legal private ownership today."

Recently, MSRs have become a focal point of the American gun control debate. They're often described as "assault weapons" by anti-gun politicians and are the subject of proposed bans, restrictions and confiscation, such as the "mandatory buyback" policy previously proposed by former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Robert "Beto" O'Rourke earlier this year.

But despite the attention that semiautomatic rifles get from anti-gun politicians, groups and activists, they actually account for a low number of homicides, at least relative to other weapons and even other firearms. FBI crime statistics for 2018 show that more than five times as many murders were committed with knives than with rifles overall — which would include both MSRs and others — and more than twice as many people were killed with "personal weapons" such as fists and feet than with rifles. The statistics also showed that rifles accounted for just 2.9 percent of overall gun homicides.

But even with almost 18 million in private ownership, MSRs comprise just a small fraction of Americans' privately-owned hardware. Wednesday's figures also estimated that the total number of privately-owned American firearms between the years 1986 and 2018 was 422.9 million guns. That estimate is based on information from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) as well as preliminary manufacturing and exportation numbers. On the subject of ammunition, NSSF says that over 8 billion rounds "of all calibers and gauges" were produced for the U.S. market in 2018.

H/T Bearing Arms

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