You Can Buy an AR-15 in Philadelphia in About 5 Minutes

Arming yourself like the Orlando shooter is much easier than you probably think.
Photo of an AR-15. (iStock)

Photo of an AR-15. (iStock)

The vast majority of people who own guns use them in a perfectly legal and responsible manner, but folks who seek to maim and murder in large numbers seem to have an affinity for one particular type of weapon: the AR-15. Orlando shooter Omar Mateen selected an AR-15 to slaughter 49 people and injure dozens more inside a gay club over the weekend, joining the list of AR-15-loyal mass killers James Holmes, Adam Lanza, Chris Harper-Mercer, and husband-and-wife terrorist team Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik. And thanks to the National Rifle Association, buying an AR-15 in Pennsylvania couldn’t be easier.

The first step is finding a gun dealer. In Pennsylvania, that’s not exactly a difficult task, because there are more than 2,000 gun dealers across the state and some 300 in the Philadelphia five-county area alone. It’s estimated that 99.97 percent of Pennsylvania residents live within 10 miles of a licensed gun store. And since the AR-15 is one of the most popular weapons in the United States — it’s not just mass killers that love the gun — you’d be hard-pressed to find a gun shop that doesn’t carry it.

Then it’s time to choose which AR-15 you want. An AR-15 is not a particular model from one manufacturer. It’s a style of gun, and different manufacturers have their own versions with all sorts of features, accessories, and marketing language like “Mil-Spec,” which supposedly indicates that the gun is made according to United States military specifications. (The AR-15 is the semi-automatic descendant of the fully automatic M-16, which is used by U.S. soldiers.)

One aspect that you’ll probably want to consider is the magazine capacity, which will tell you how many rounds you can fire before having to reload. Now if you lived in thoroughly anti-gun New Jersey, you wouldn’t be allowed to use an AR-15 with a capacity of more than 15 rounds. But in Pennsylvania, there are no such limits, and you can find AR-15 magazines that hold 100 rounds. Of course, since the AR-15 is semi-automatic, annoyingly meaning you have to pull the trigger every time you want it to fire, you can only effectively get off about 45 rounds in one minute, but there are add-ons that you can buy that simulate the fully automatic firing of the M-16, with some manufacturers claiming that you can burn through 900 rounds in one minute.

Of course, cost is also a consideration, but AR-15s are cheaper than they used to be.

“They’ve come down in price a great deal,” says Anthony Filippello of Northeast Philly gun store Delaware Valley Sports Center. In Filippello’s shop, AR-15s generally range in price from $649 to $4,000, although he does run sales once in a while. “Sometimes, we have deals for them at $595. And listen, if, God forbid, we’re going into battle, I’m not going to use a $4,000 rifle that’s going to get banged all around. I’m not crawling on the floor with a $4,000 weapon.”

The final step before you can walk out the door with an AR-15 is the background check. You’ve probably heard about gun background checks that can take three days, but there’s no such thing in Pennsylvania. While you should probably take a half day off from work if you need to get a driver’s license in the state, you can complete a background check and buy an AR-15 during your lunch break and still have time to grab a bite.

Most states use the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, but Pennsylvania gun shops are required to process background checks through the Pennsylvania State Police instead. After you fill out a form, the gun dealer inputs your information into an automated system on the web or over the phone. According to the State Police, 99 percent of all applications are approved, and the average response time is less than one-and-a-half minutes.

Not everybody will pass the Pennsylvania background check as there are a number of criteria that could cause your application to be rejected, such as if you are a convicted murderer, undocumented immigrant, or someone who has been deemed mentally ill by a court.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t buy an AR-15 in Pennsylvania. Nope. Thanks to our gun laws, you can buy an AR-15 privately, such as from a private dealer at a gun show or the guy down the street, without undergoing any type of background check. While the law requires that handgun purchases go through official channels — since most crimes are committed with handguns, which are much easier to conceal — “long guns,” which includes weapons like shotguns, .22-caliber rifles, and AR-15s, can be sold off-the-books.

Once you’ve got your AR-15 and some ammo in hand, you’re ready to shoot.

We asked Filippello what purpose such a powerful and brutally efficient weapon could have other than the mass murder of humans.

“Well,” he began before a long pause. “The AR-15 comes in very handy with feral hogs, which are very destructive and very dangerous animals. The AR-15 gives you the capacity to put more of them down very quickly.”