He said gun owners consider it a popular "modern sporting rifle. We don't consider it an assault weapon."
That statement was borne out by the surge in sales of the AR-15 and similar semi-automatic rifles in the immediate aftermath of the Connecticut massacre because of fears the weapons may soon be banned by federal law.
Nick D'Augustine, owner of Milford Firearms in Milford, N.H., said he's setting sales records daily since the tragedy in Newtown.
"I've never seen anything like this," he said. "The phones been ringing nonstop, the cash register has been going nonstop."
Many of the nation's gun outlets said they could not keep up with the demand. Law enforcement agencies said they were deluged with orders for background checks on assault rifle buyers.
"We had to call in extra staff," Susan Medina, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, told the Denver Post.
There's no certainty about how many Americans own guns. But a 2009 report by the Congressional Research Service estimated there are 310 million firearms in the U.S., excluding weapons on military bases. That's only 4 million short of the country's latest population estimate.
Past attempts to strengthen gun control laws have met with stiff resistance from the nation's gun lobby, contending banning weapons is a violation of the Second Amendment's right for citizens to bear arms. A 1994 federal ban on the sale of assault rifles was allowed to lapse in 2004 by President George W. Bush, and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a strict gun control law in Washington, D. C., in 2008, citing the Second Amendment.
But this time even the National Rifle Association, the loudest voice in the pro-gun camp, says it is "prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."