America’s Gun: The Rise of the AR-15

CNBC will be airing a special on the AR-15 Thursday, April 25th at 10PM ET/PT.

Full press release below.

It is both lethal and legal, loved by some and feared by others – the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle – seven pounds of metal and plastic that has become a lightning rod in a wrenching national debate over whether such guns belong in civilian hands. The AR-15, with an estimated four million in circulation, has become a symbol of freedom to many of its owners and is now America’s most famous, and infamous, firearm.

On Thursday, April 25th at 10PM ET/PT, CNBC Prime presents “America’s Gun: The Rise of the AR-15,” a one-hour documentary reported by Brian Sullivan, that examines the controversy surrounding this high-powered rifle. The program profiles a broad range of dealers, instructors and owners who are AR-15 enthusiasts and have made it America’s preferred rifle for hunting and sports shooting. CNBC also speaks with extremists and provocateurs who have threatened violence if their gun rights are denied.

The documentary looks at the AR-15’s role in mass shootings like the ones in Newtown, Connecticut, which claimed 26 lives, and in Aurora, Colorado, which left 12 dead and 58 wounded. Correspondent Brian Sullivan profiles Farrah Soudani, a 22 year-old victim of the Aurora massacre who survived grievous wounds, and meets the emergency room doctor and EMT who helped save her (Video: CNBC also speaks with Sandy Phillips, a gun owner herself, whose 24 year-old daughter was killed in the same shooting, struck six times by the AR-15. Phillips is channeling her grief into action, advocating limited access to the AR-15 and similar weapons.

Sullivan explores the depth of the AR-15’s popularity in a profile of a former dance instructor and mother of two named Julianna Crowder. Today, Crowder makes her living training women to use their AR-15’s and other weapons. Crowder founded a Texas group called “A Girl and A Gun Women’s Shooting League” that now has chapters in eleven states (Video: Sullivan also meets a Florida dentist, Mike Barr, who says, “Tens of millions of us are responsible gun owners, and to punish us for the deeds of a few deranged people, whether they use an AR-15, or a car, you know, I don’t think that’s right.” (Video:

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CNBC travels to rural Western Tennessee to meet James Yeager, a 42-year old firearms instructor and Second Amendment absolutist, who teaches an AR-15 class to a diverse mix of gun owners. Yeager became a viral sensation when he took to YouTube and threatened to “start killing people” if anyone came after his guns. The video prompted Tennessee’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security to temporarily suspend Yeager’s permit to carry a gun. CNBC also speaks with Tom Diaz, a former NRA member and now one of the most prominent gun control advocates in the country, who says radical rhetoric like Yeager’s has had a chilling effect on the kind of open dialogue needed to forge compromise. (Video:

The AR-15 dates back more than 50 years, but it has never been hotter or more controversial than it is right now. The documentary examines the AR-15’s roots, introducing viewers to Jim Sullivan, an engineer who helped design the AR-15 for the military and who never imagined the gun would have such wide appeal in the civilian market. For roughly a thousand dollars, you can buy one at a Walmart or other retailers, if they’re not sold out: fearing a crackdown in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, the gun-buying public has made a run on AR-15’s and related accessories, prompting a huge spike in sales and a shortage of inventory.

Dozens of U.S. manufacturers make variations of the AR-15 rifle, but the most interesting, and perhaps provocative player on that landscape is a University of Texas law student named Cody Wilson. A self-described anarchist, Wilson has been using three-dimensional (3D) printers to manufacture critical parts for AR-15 rifles, but without the serial numbers the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives requires conventional builders to stamp on their components. Wilson has gained widespread notoriety by legally distributing plans for an untraceable AR-15 on the internet. His self-described goal is to make high-capacity firepower more accessible for anyone and everyone, even if the result is an increase in violence. (Video:

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Mitch Weitzner is the Senior Executive Producer of “America’s Gun: The Rise of the AR-15.” Wally Griffith is the Senior Producer. Deborah Camiel and James Segelstein are producers and Meghan Lisson is Associate Producer. Ray Borelli is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Research, Scheduling and Long Form Programming.

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