The guns, some of which come in camouflage and desert khaki, bristle with features useful only to an infantry soldier or a special-forces operative. A flash suppressor on the end of a barrel makes it possible to shoot at night without a blinding flare. Quick-change magazines let troops reload easily. Barrel shrouds allow precise control without fear of burns from a muzzle that grows hot after multiple rounds are fired. But now anyone can own these guns, and millions are in civilian hands.

“There is an allure to this weapon that makes it unusually attractive,” Scott Knight, former chairman of the International Chiefs of Police Firearms Committee, told USA Today, speaking of the Bushmaster rifles. “The way it looks, the way it handles — it screams assault weapon.”

The company’s catalog and ads show soldiers moving on patrol through jungles, Bushmasters at the ready. “When you need to perform under pressure, Bushmaster delivers,” says the advertising copy, superimposed over the silhouette of a soldier holding his helmet against the backdrop of an American flag. “Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered,” said a 2010 catalog, peddling an assault rifle billed as “the ultimate military combat weapons system.” (Available to anyone for $2,500.)