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By Neelesh Moorthy June 14, 2016

Alan Grayson wrongly claims weapon used by Mateen could fire 700 rounds a minute

Rep. Alan Grayson, an Orlando-area Democrat, made a case against assault rifles after the shooting in Orlando, arguing that the gun’s rate of fire is what made the death toll so catastrophic.

If the shooter, Omar Mateen, "was not able to buy a weapon that shoots off 700 rounds in a minute, a lot of those people would still be alive," Grayson said June 12, in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett.

"If somebody like him had nothing worse to deal with than a glock pistol which was his other weapon today, he might have killed three or four people and not 50," Grayson said.

Law enforcement officials have not released specific details regarding the nature of the rifle Mateen used in the shooting as of this fact-check. Law enforcement officials have described it as an "AR type rifle." The gun shop owner who sold Mateen the weapon told the New York Post it was a Sig Sauer MCX rifle.  

Grayson told PolitiFact he was referring to the AR-15 weapon more generally, which was modeled off the military style M16.

All these details matter, and what makes Grayson's claim problematic. Experts told us the weapon Mateen used could not fire 700 rounds in a minute without serious alterations that require the resources of a gun manufacturer. Even if Mateen had those resources, and there is no indication from sounds recorded from the shooting or from investigators that he did, experts are not even sure if Grayson’s 700-rounds-per-minute claim is possible.

Experts said that firing 700 rounds per minute is unrealistic due to the time it would take for a shooter to reload magazines and because the gun would overheat.

What Grayson said later

Both the AR-15 and Sig Sauer MCX rifle are sold for civilian use as a semiautomatic rifle, meaning a shooter has to pull the trigger to fire each round. This is different from an automatic weapon where the shooter can hold down the trigger and shoot multiple rounds.

The AR-15 weapon was used in the 2015 San Bernadino and 2012 Sandy Hook shootings, and has since been the subject of controversy, including a lawsuit against an AR-15 manufacturer.

Mateen used an "AR type rifle," according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Some people, like Grayson, took that to mean an AR-15. The Sig Sauer MCX, however, looks like an AR-15 and is considered an AR type rifle. 

Grayson clarified his specific claim in other interviews to say that rifle Mateen used was only capable of 700 rounds per minute when modified to become an automatic weapon, such as the M16 military version of the civilian AR-15.

Grayson told PolitiFact that there are various ways of converting weapons from semi-automatic to automatic, some legal (purchasing a shoulder mount) and others illegal ("machining" the weapon).

Gary Kleck, Florida State University criminologist, said that it would be possible to "convert" a semiautomatic rifle into an automatic rifle, but only "if you had the resources of a modern rifle manufacturer" and sufficient tools.

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Kleck’s research on guns recovered by police suggests that rarely happens. If shooters do use an automatic weapon, they probably stole it from a military armory rather than repurposing a civilian version, Kleck said.

Theory vs. reality

Grayson’s claim distorts what we know about the Orlando shooting and the number of rounds a standard semiautomatic rifle can fire.

The 700-round-a-minute figure is only a theoretical benchmark, not something achievable in reality.

Army documents list the M16 as having a "cyclic rate of fire" of 700-900 rounds per minute. However, the "cyclic" rate of fire is a theoretical measurement of speed, not how many rounds could actually be shot out of the gun in 1 minute, said Michael O’Shea, a constitutional law professor at Oklahoma City University.

"That only means how rapidly the firing mechanism operates while there is ammunition in the gun," O’Shea said. "It is not the same as being able to actually discharge 700 rounds of ammunition from the gun in 60 seconds."

For starters, a shooter would have to reload his magazines to achieve that volume — at least 20 times with 30 round magazines or 6 times with 100 round magazines, which are less commonly used, O’Shea said.

Grayson told PolitiFact that there are videos online of people shooting at 700-900 rounds per minute. However, we searched online for such videos and found that they actually confirmed O'Shea's point. 

The Army document designates the "maximum effective rate of fire" — "the highest rate of fire that can be maintained and still achieve target hits" — as 150-200 rounds per minute for an automatic M16. Kleck added that, from his research on mass shootings, most shooters rarely fire more than 50 rounds per minute.

Even if you could overcome the need to reload — by installing a belt of ammunition — reaching 700 rounds in one minute remains infeasible, said Steven Howard, a lawyer and gun expert who has consulted with various law enforcement agencies.

"In reality, you’ll get to 500 rounds and the gun will just melt," Howard said.

Our ruling

Grayson said that the rifle Mateen used "shoots off 700 rounds in a minute."

On CNN, he includes this claim without any clarification. In other forums, he noted that his claim is only true for the hypothetical semiautomatic rifle converted to an automatic weapon.

Even then, however, experts say the 700-round-per-minute figure is not an accurate portrayal of rounds fired. This is true for many reasons, they said, including reloading time and the potential of overheating the gun.

The debate over how assault weapons ought to be regulated is ongoing and contentious, but the claim Grayson uses is nonetheless misleading.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

NewsTalk Florida, "Rep Grayson: AR-15 Availability Reason for Orlando Shooting Death Count," June 12, 2016.

Phone Interview with Steven Howard, competitive shooter and gun expert, June 13, 2016

Phone Interviews with Alan Grayson, June 13, 2016

Email Interviews with Gary Kleck, Florida State University criminologist, June 13-14, 2016

Email Interview with Michael O’Shea, professor of constitutional law at Oklahoma City University, June 13-14, 2016

Email Interview with Jay Corzine, professor of sociology at the University of Central Florida, June 13, 2016

National Public Radio, "AR-15 Gun-Maker Seeks To Dismiss Lawsuit Filed By Sandy Hook Parents," February 22, 2016

Robert Walker, "Cartridges and Firearm Identification," November 2012.

Department of the Army, "RIFLE MARKSMANSHIP M16-/M4-SERIES WEAPONS," August 2008.

CNN, Transcript from Erin Burnett’s interview with Alan Grayson, June 12, 2016

"AR-15 as fast as full auto 900rpm Bushmaster Slide Fire .223," Banyanhunter’s YouTube channel, February 18, 2012

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Alan Grayson wrongly claims weapon used by Mateen could fire 700 rounds a minute

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