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The process of buying an AR-15-style rifle in Arizona

Colorado Shooting
Posted at 5:24 PM, Jun 29, 2022

The AR-15-style rifles are used commonly in Arizona for sport, but their purpose has been put in question after they’ve been used in multiple mass shootings across the country, including the massacre in Uvalde, Texas on May 24.

ABC15 got a look at the process to buy one of these rifles in Arizona.

As a law-abiding 18-year-old in Arizona, an AR-15-style rifle is available anywhere from $500 to over $2,000. At the federally licensed firearms dealer of AZ Guns, one of the first questions they’ll ask prospective buyers is what they plan to do with the popular semi-automatic rifle.

NRA Convention
Bryan Oberc, Munster, Ind., tries out an AR-15 from Sig Sauer in the exhibition hall at the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Saturday, April 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Christian Petey of AZ Guns says a common answer he receives is precision shooting or hunting.

”(The age group of) 18-30 really like (Daniel Defense) because it’s used in video games as a lot of firearms that are similar to it,” he said.

Petey said most of the federally licensed firearms dealers at AZ Guns are former service members or serve their community in law enforcement. Petey is also a firearms instructor.

He explained the time it takes to buy an AR-15-style rifle from a licensed firearms dealer in Arizona can range from just minutes to days depending on the buyer's purchase history. The first question someone like Petey would ask is for a current state ID.

Petey says the firearms dealers at AZ Guns are trained to probe the buyer with the right to deny the sale at any point.

“A lot of people will say, 'I want it for self-defense'... we don’t recommend it for self-defense all the time,” he said.

Next, the prospective buyer will fill out ATF’s six-page firearm transaction record. Outside of basic personal info, questions include if the buyer has ever been convicted of a felony, if they’re a marijuana or controlled substance user, and if the gun they want is for them. If you lie on the form, you can face a $250,000 fine and jail time.

”Having to say, ‘yes this gun is for me,’ is what a lot of people get caught up on,” he said.

Petey recalls scenarios where a couple would come in and a boyfriend would tell his girlfriend which gun he wants before he leaves the store. Then the girlfriend returns and tries to buy the firearm.

One of the last steps is to run the buyer’s information through a background check.

Guns Background Checks
FILE -In this Nov. 18, 2014 file photo, a researcher simulates a check done for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or NICS, at the FBI’s criminal justice center in Bridgeport, W.Va. The day after the U.S Thanksgiving Day holiday, known as Black Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, as shoppers chasing bargains crowd stores, broke an FBI record for the number of firearms background checks. The agency said Tuesday that it processed 185,345 background checks — roughly two per second. (AP Photo/Matt Stroud)

Results come back from the federal government to proceed, deny, or delay the purchase. We’re told firearms dealers won’t be given a reason for why a buyer is denied but Petey says if the FBI doesn’t get back to the arms dealer within five days, the dealer can still sell that firearm after that wait.

Petey says he’s experienced the FBI denying the buyer weeks after the gun was already sold.

“That’s something I’d change about the industry, unfortunately, the agencies take too long,” said Petey.

We reached out to the FBI who told us they rely on other agencies like law enforcement to provide background info on a buyer. An FBI spokesperson said those agencies don’t always get back to them in a timely manner.

The FBI referred us to a report on the background check system that showed the background check could be delayed for 90 days after which it’s destroyed.

“In 2021, there were 466,488 transactions handled by the NICS Section that could not be resolved within three business days,” according to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System operational report.

“We essentially want to make sure that, if you’re a law-abiding citizen, that you don’t have any intentions do to any harm to anyone, then we’re more than happy to help you out,” said Petey. Other loopholes exist when it comes to purchasing firearms from an unlicensed dealer or at a gun show.

We spoke with an Arizona State University constitutional law professor, Stefanie Lindquist, who says these loopholes are a key reason gun control advocates call for changes to background checks.

Tom Sullivan
Tom Sullivan, second from right, who's son Alex was killed in the 2012 Aurora movie theatre massacre, attends a rally against gun violence in front of Republican Congressman Mike Coffman's office, in Aurora, Colo., Wednesday April 23, 2014. Sullivan and other parents of Aurora theater shooting victims urged Coffman to support universal background checks in Congress. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

”That’s why people are requesting universal background checks, so this loophole where there is no background check required for a non-licensed dealer can be closed,” said Lindquist.

The recent passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act aims to strengthen background checks. The measure gives authorities 10 business days to review juvenile and mental health records of buyers under the age of 21.