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New VPC Report Details Marketing and Production History of Assault Rifle Used in Aurora, CO, the Smith & Wesson M&P15

Describes How It and Other Assault Rifles Differ from Sporting Semiautomatic Rifles

WASHINGTON - Colorado mass shooter James Holmes’ alleged use of a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semiautomatic AR-15-style assault rifle "demonstrates the clear and present danger of a gun designed for war and ruthlessly marketed for profit to civilians" according to a new report, Understanding the Smith & Wesson M&P15 Semiautomatic Assault Rifle Used in the Aurora, Colorado Mass Murder (, released today by the Violence Policy Center (VPC).

The report details Smith & Wesson's 2006 introduction of the M&P15 (M&P stands for Military & Police) semiautomatic assault rifle, its marketing, production numbers, and role in the company’s profits. A case study in the value of the assault weapons market to the overall gun industry, the M&P15 assault rifle is the first rifle produced by Smith & Wesson in the modern era. The study also details the military history of assault rifles and the specific anti-personnel design features designed for "spray fire" and "hosing down" an area that make assault rifles a distinct class of firearm separate from traditional sporting semiautomatic weapons. It also details the gun industry's ongoing, multi-year campaign to attempt to "rebrand" semiautomatic assault rifles as "modern sporting rifles."

From 2006 through 2010, Smith & Wesson manufactured 277,806 M&P15 assault rifles. Production for 2009 and 2010 topped 100,000 for each year. Upon the assault rifle's introduction in 2006, Smith & Wesson told Shooting Industry magazine, “We believe the features of these tactical rifles make them strong contenders in the military and law enforcement markets...We also believe that our M&P rifle series fills a tremendous gap in the marketplace by delivering high-quality, feature-rich tactical rifles that will be readily available in commercial channels.” By 2012, the company's chief executive called the Military & Police line of products “both a brand and product platform,” adding, “It’s really about modern polymer pistols and Modern Sporting Rifles, also known as tactical rifles.”

The study concludes, " James Holmes demonstrated once again in Colorado, call them what you will--'black rifles,' 'tactical rifles,' or 'modern sporting rifles'-- military-style semiautomatic assault weapons are plain and simply killing machines."


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The Violence Policy Center is a national tax-exempt educational organization working for a safer America through research, investigation, analysis, and advocacy. The VPC provides information to policymakers, journalists, organizations, advocates, and the general public.

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