By Greg McCune
(Reuters) - The semiautomatic handgun used in the deadly attack on a Wisconsin Sikh temple is the same type used in other recent U.S. mass shootings, including one at a theater in Colorado, and the attack on a congresswoman in Arizona, gun experts said.
Wisconsin shooter Wade Michael Page used a Springfield 9mm semiautomatic handgun to carry out the attack at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, officials said. As in several other recent mass shootings, the gun had been purchased legally, at a Milwaukee-area gun store called the Shooter Shop.
Page lived in North Carolina before moving to the Milwaukee area and was issued five separate gun purchase permits in North Carolina after passing a background check in May 2008, according to the Cumberland County, North Carolina, sheriff's office.
Semiautomatic handguns are the weapon of choice for mass murderers because they are light and easy to conceal, and adaptable to using high-capacity magazines, experts say. This allows the shooter to fire the maximum number of bullets in a short period of time, said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit group that advocates to reduce gun violence.
Authorities said on Monday that Page emptied several magazines in the shooting, and several more unused magazines were found. A police officer who arrived on the scene early in the attack was shot at least eight times and survived in critical condition, Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said.
Other recent attacks have also used semiautomatic handguns with high-capacity magazines.
James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people in a shooting spree last month at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, used one .40-caliber Glock handgun and had another one in his car. The weapons were purchased legally within the previous 60 days.
Jared Loughner, who is accused of killing six people and critically wounding Representative Gabrielle Giffords in a January 2011 attack in Tucson, Arizona, used a Glock 9 mm semiautomatic pistol with a magazine that held more than 30 bullets. He also had legally purchased the gun at a local shop and bought ammunition at Wal-Mart.
Seung-hui Cho, the Virginia Tech University student who killed 32 people and then committed suicide in 2007, also used a Glock semiautomatic handgun.
The common thread binding the mass attacks together is that they all used semiautomatic handguns with high-capacity magazines, Sugarmann said.
"There is no valid reason for civilians to have assault rifles, semiautomatic handguns and high-capacity magazines," he said. "We have to start ratcheting down the firepower in civilian hands in the United States."
GUN CONTROL LAWS
The United States had a ban on certain types of assault weapons until 2004, when it was allowed to expire. Since then, U.S. gun laws have become progressively more permissive, especially at the state level.
Wisconsin, where the handgun used in the Sikh temple attack was purchased, has some of the weakest gun laws in the country, according to a scorecard by the Brady Campaign on Gun Violence, which advocates for gun control. Wisconsin gun laws were rated weaker than all but 10 other states.
In July 2011, Wisconsin passed a concealed carry law, leaving Illinois the only state without a law allowing citizens to carry a concealed weapon.
Wisconsin has no prohibition on assault weapons or large-capacity ammunition magazines, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who signed the concealed carry law, was a speaker at the 2012 annual convention of the National Rifle Association, the main group advocating for gun ownership rights.
Since the Colorado shooting, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has renewed a push to ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. But the proposal is given little chance of passing Congress in an election year.
(Additional reporting by Chris Francescani in New York, Tom Brown in Miami and Colleen Jenkins in North Carolina; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and David Storey)
(This story corrects name to Sugarmann in the 10th paragraph)