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Popular AR-15 Takes Center Stage Of Gun Control Debate

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A popular gun has taken center stage as a national gun control debate begins to take shape in the wake of Friday's massacre in Newtown, Conn.

The AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America with more than three million Americans owning one, according to CBS News.

But the rifle, which is the civilian version of the military's M-16, has been used in several deadly attacks around the U.S.

1010 WINS' Mona Rivera reports


It was used in the recent shopping mall shooting in Oregon, the July movie theater shooting massacre in Aurora, Colorado and Friday's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.

Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle to kill 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary after shooting and killing his mother in their home. He also had a Sig Sauer and a Glock but did not use those weapons in the attack, police said.

He had multiple high-capacity clips each capable of holding 30 bullets, and the chief medical examiner said the ammunition was the type designed to break up inside a victim's body and inflict the maximum amount of damage, tearing apart bone and tissue.

Lanza shot himself in the head with a semi-automatic handgun he was also carrying when he heard police approaching the school, police said.

But through it all, the gun's popularity has continued to soar. Gun store owner Rick Friedman told CBS News that since last Friday's shooting, AR-15s have been all but flying off the shelves.

"I normally sell about 15 to 20 a month," he said. "I've sold about 30 in the last three days because people want to make sure they can own them legally before they get the right taken away."

Some gun enthusiasts on Long Island say they don't want their rights taken away.

"Now everybody who has wanted one is going to get one because they feel it's going to be hard to get in the future," one man told 1010 WINS' Mona Rivera.

"People are worried that they are going to have that right to have that gun taken away and I think that's where that run is," said another. "I think they're worried that the right to buy that gun, to own that gun, is going to be taken away."

Versions of the AR-15 were outlawed in the U.S. under the 1994 assault weapons ban. That law expired in 2004 and Congress failed to renew it under immense pressure from the gun lobby.

The gun's allure is that it is a "practical, well-made weapon. (It's) five pounds, it has a great sighting system, you can improve on that with optics and lasers. But even without any of the fancy stuff, down range from a target pretty far away -- something you'd have trouble hitting accurately with a handgun -- you can put the round right there. It's an easy gun to shoot," CBS News senior correspondent John Miller said on "CBS This Morning."

Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management announced Tuesday it plans to sell its stake in Freedom Group, maker of the Bushmaster rifle, following the school shootings.

WCBS 880's Ginny Kosola reports


Cerberus said in a statement Tuesday that it was deeply saddened by Friday's events and that it will hire a financial adviser to help with the process of selling its Freedom Group interests.

According to the statement, the firm decided to sell Freedom Group because "it is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level."

Cerberus is headed by billionaire Stephen Feinberg, whose father lives in Newtown, WCBS 880's Ginny Kosola reported.

"It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. That is the job of our federal and state legislators. There are, however, actions that we as a firm can take. Accordingly, we have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group. We will retain a financial advisor to design and execute a process to sell our interests in Freedom Group, and we will then return that capital to our investors," the statement read.

In a strange twist, teachers owned part of the company that made the gun. The California State Teachers' Retirement System had a 2.4-percent interest in the firm, Kosola reported.

Freedom Group also makes guns for police, the military and hunting, Kosola reported.

Since Friday's shooting, lawmakers across the country and across the aisle have voiced support for renewing the assault weapons ban as well as gun control reforms.

In a speech to the Senate on Tuesday, Connecticut U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said officials need to do something to effectively ban assault weapons. He referred specifically to weapons that are not designed for self-defense or hunting, but for killing and maiming people.

A new CBS News poll shows that 57 percent of people surveyed are now in favor of stricter gun control laws. That's up from 39 percent in April.

A grassroots effort has also started in Newtown. The group Newtown United is pushing for gun control, saying it just wants to prevent another town from suffering what it has endured.

But as retailers across the country report a spike in sales of the popular rifle, others are taking a different approach.

Dick's Sporting Goods says it's suspending sales of modern rifles nationwide because the shooting in Newtown.

The sporting goods chain also said it's removing all guns from display at its store closest to Newtown, where the massacre took place.

Earlier Tuesday, a blank page turned up on Dick's website after a search for modern sporting rifles.

A statement posted on Dick's website Tuesday morning expressed sympathy for the victims' families. It said sales of modern sporting rifles will be suspended during "this time of national mourning."

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(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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