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Glock pistols are the overlooked weapon in American mass shootings

Orlando gunman Omar Mateen was armed with a type of handgun that has been used nearly as often as assault rifles to commit mass shootings.
Photo par Ralph Freso/Reuters

When Omar Mateen burst into Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12 and opened fire on the crowd, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others, he was armed with two guns. But in the aftermath of the attack, only one of the weapons became the subject of intense scrutiny.

Most of the attention has focused on Mateen's semi-automatic .223-caliber Sig Sauer MCX, which is modeled after the AR-15 assault rifle. The fact that similar weapons were used during several recent mass shootings — including the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the movie theater rampage in Aurora, Colorado that same year, and the 2015 attack in San Bernardino, California — led to a renewed push for an assault weapons ban, and prompted many reports about how easily AR-15s can be purchased in Florida.


But Mateen was also carrying a Glock, a brand of firearm that has been used nearly as often as assault rifles to commit mass murder.

Related: AR-15s are big business in Florida — and remarkably easy to get

A list of mass shootings between April 1999 and January 2013 prepared for lawmakers in Connecticut showed that rifles were used in 10 incidents and shotguns in 10 others, while handguns were used in 42. Glock brand pistols turned up in nine of those cases. Another compendium of mass shootings since 2009 by the New York Times showed that handguns were used in 13 incidents, compared to five in which a rifle was the primary weapon. Glocks were recovered from six of the perpetrators.

Mateen, who worked nine years for the security firm G4S, used a Glock 17, a model that is commonly issued to military personnel, police officers, and private security guards, said David VanDriel, co-founder of Miami-based Direct Action 1ndustries, a company that provides defense training to law enforcement officers and civilians. He said the weapons are marketed for their durability, safety features, and efficiency.

"The Glock 17 is extremely reliable," VanDriel said. "It doesn't require a whole lot of maintenance time."

Suleiman Yousef, a bodyguard, firearms instructor, and bail bondsman from Miami, told VICE News that the Glock 17 is one of the Austrian gunmaker's best-selling semi-automatic pistols. It's affordable — usually selling for about $500 — and it uses 9mm bullets, a type of ammunition that is produced in high volume.


"You can go to any country in the world and find Glocks and Glock parts," Yousef said. "I'm going to Mexico and Brazil in July for work. When I get to both places, I'll have a Glock waiting for me."

Related: DOJ releases uncensored transcript of Omar Mateen's 911 call during the Orlando shooting

Originally designed for the Austrian army following World War II by company founder Gaston Glock, the Glock 17 entered American police service in the mid-1980s following a series of incidents that left cops feeling outgunned by criminals, including a 1986 FBI shootout with heavily armed bank robbers in Miami, Florida, that left two agents dead. Today, Glock makes "pistols available for every man and woman, for every application and every hand size," according to a company promo video.

The earliest known case of a Glock being used in a mass shooting came in 1991, when unemployed merchant mariner George Jo Hennard drove his pick-up truck through the plate-glass window of Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. Hennard exited his vehicle and methodically fired two pistols, including a Glock 17, at restaurant patrons, killing 24 and injuring 27.

In the last nine years, Glocks have figured prominently in at least five mass shootings. In 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech University, used a Glock 19 and Walther P22 to kill 32 people and wound 17 others in two separate attacks on campus. The Glock 19 is a smaller pistol that is easier to conceal. Three years later, Jared Lee Loughner used a Glock 19 to shoot 20 people in Arizona, gravely wounding US Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killing six others, including a nine-year-old girl.


In 2013, Pedro Vargas went on a shooting rampage inside his apartment complex in Hialeah, Florida. With his Glock 17, Vargas murdered six people and held two neighbors hostage during an eight-hour stand-off until a SWAT team stormed the building and killed him.

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof killed nine people with a .45-caliber Glock pistol at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Two months later, Vester Lee Flanagan II shot and killed a Roanoke, Virginia, television reporter and a cameraman with a Glock 19 during a live news broadcast.

Based on recent history, it doesn't make a difference if a mass shooter is using a rifle or handgun, VanDriel said. "You can cause severe damage with any kind of gun," he said. "I would imagine [Mateen] knew how to operate the weapons he was carrying."

Related: The Supreme Court just cleared the way for more assault rifle bans

Mateen bought his Sig Sauer at a gun shop near his home in St. Lucie, Florida, on June 4, and returned the following day to purchase the Glock. He came back a third time on June 9 to buy magazines for both weapons. The sales went through despite Mateen's name being included on two federal watch lists for suspected terrorists. Legislation to block gun sales to people on those lists was voted down in the Senate on Monday, along with three other gun control measures.

In the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, VanDriel expects there will be another dramatic increase in Floridians seeking to obtain concealed weapons permits and buy guns. As of April, about 1.6 million Floridians have the permits.


But while VanDriel is all for citizens arming themselves for protection, he believes that most people who buy guns do not properly train themselves to react in life-and-death situations. Going to the range for target practice does not cut it, he added.

"People's biggest mistake is they do the initial training and then they stop," he said. "You need to train in a stressful environment so you don't make a mistake."

Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness

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