When Eugene Stoner designed "America's gun" (aka the AR-15) in the late 1950s, which was adopted for use by the Army as the M16, his goal was to create the "most efficient and superior" rifles for military use and give them a leg up over the Soviets' AK-47, members of the late inventor's family tell NBC News. But his surviving children and grown grandkids, who spoke to NBC anonymously via phone and email so they could speak more openly, say Stoner, who died in 1997, didn't use the AR-15 for sporting purposes (even though he enjoyed hunting and skeet shooting), defense, or for any reason whatsoever: He never owned one at all, as he considered it a war weapon not meant for civilian hands. "He died long before any mass shootings occurred," the family says. "But we do think he would have been horrified and sickened as anyone, if not more, by these events." The New York Daily News notes Stoner wasn't an engineer by trade and was just fooling around in his garage when he came up with the design for the AR-15, which he then further developed as chief designer for ArmaLite.
When Stoner died at the age of 74, however, a semi-automatic model of his famous firearm started flying off shelves and into civilian hands, spurring the creation of similar guns for the general public. AR-15-style rifles have since been used in at least 10 recent mass shootings, including Sandy Hook, Aurora, San Bernardino, and Sunday's Orlando shooting (that gun was an AR-15-like Sig Sauer). Why what Stoner's family is saying may prove important: An ongoing lawsuit brought by 10 Newtown plaintiffs against AR-15 manufacturer Remington, a distributor, and a local retailer asserts the same premise that the rifle is a "weapon of war" and never should have been promoted to regular Joes, per the New York Times. Stoner's family, meanwhile, has one last thought. "What has happened, good or bad, since his patents have expired is a result of our free market system," they tell NBC. "Currently, a more interesting question is: 'Who now is benefiting from the manufacturing and sales of AR-15s, and for what uses?'" (Read a Newtown mom's open letter after the Orlando massacre.)