BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — As Congress and state governments look to curb deadly mass shootings, the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates the United States imported or manufactured 2.8 million AR-15 and AK-style rifles in 2020.

The City of Beckley faced three deadly shootings last month. Police say young adults used semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15, a legal weapon commonly purchased by gun enthusiasts in Beckley and around the state.

The rifle re-loads ammunition automatically and fires rapidly.

As the AR-15 is used more frequently to commit violet crimes, Beckley’s mayor says while the guns are legal to own and buy, he believes police officers face increased threats.

“Standard issue is a Glock nine-millimeter,” Beckley Mayor Rob Rappold said on May 8, 2023. “I guess that’s kind of a semi-automatic. But it’s a handgun. It’s a pistol. Of course, if our officers come up on someone with an AR 15, they’re immediately outgunned.”

Beckley Police Department officers carry AR-15 rifles inside their cruisers. The guns are not used for routine police work, and residents don’t usually see officers patrolling or responding to calls while carrying semi-automatic rifles, which were originally designed for the military to use.

“If our police officers are armed with AR-15’s routinely, I think it sends a bad message,” he said. “I think it increases the concern that any average citizen might have.”

Police officers said they stay prepared.

“Obviously, dealing with AR-15 style weapons does pose a greater risk than it does normally, than it would otherwise,” said Cpl. Michael Deems, a detective with Beckley Police Department. “But we understand these weapons exist. We understand, and we’re prepared, and we train.”