WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US gun manufacturer has unveiled a semi-automatic rifle for children modelled on the AR-15, which has been used in a number of deadly mass shootings, sparking condemnation from gun safety groups.
The gun dubbed the JR-15 is being marketed by maker WEE1 Tactical as "the first in a line of shooting platforms that will safely help adults introduce children to the shooting sports". The company's website says the rifle "also looks, feels, and operates just like Mom and Dad's gun".
The JR-15 is only 80cm long, weighs less than 1kg and comes with magazines of five or 10 rounds of 22 calibre bullets. It was released in mid-January with a price tag of US$389 (S$524).
The adult model, the AR-15, is the civilian version of a military-style weapon and has been used in multiple mass killings in the United States, including in schools.
Mass shootings are a recurrent scourge of the United States, where the right to own weapons is guaranteed by the Constitution.
Attempts to regulate their sale is often blocked in Congress, where the powerful gun lobby - in particular the National Rifle Association - wields great influence.
On December 14, 2012, a young man used an AR-15 to kill 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
An AR-15 was also used in a Las Vegas attack in 2017 that left 58 people dead, making it the deadliest shooting in recent US history, and in the Parkland High School shooting in Florida that killed 17 in 2018.
"At first glance this comes across as a grotesque joke. On second look, it's just grotesque," said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Centre, which seeks to curb gun violence.
Newtown Action Alliance, a group also pushing for limits on firearms, condemned the gun lobby and weapons manufacturers who, it said, "will do anything in pursuit of continued profits".
Sugarmann slammed the imagery used by the manufacturer to attract young customers: a pirate skull with a Mohawk haircut for boys and for girls, a skull with blond bunches and a pink pacifier in its mouth.
In his 2016 report on the methods that US arms manufacturers use to attract young people, Sugarmann denounced weapons that are lighter to handle and often painted in bright colours - pink, red, orange or metallic purple - with the aim of drawing in young audiences.
In 2021, firearms killed nearly 45,000 people in the United States, including more than 1,500 minors, according to the organisation Gun Violence Archive.