Strategy Here's how easy it is to legally buy a semiautomatic gun in the US

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In certain parts of the US, you can walk into a store and walk out with a semi-automatic gun in your hand in mere minutes.

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(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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  • A mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left at least 17 people dead and 14 injured.
  • The suspected attacker, a former student of the school, allegedly used an AR-15 rifle that he had bought legally.
  • In some parts of the US, you can walk into a store and buy a gun within minutes.

Wednesday's mass shooting at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School reveals a terrifying reality about the US' gun laws.

Suspect Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student of the school, was legally able to buy the AR-15 rifle he allegedly used to perpetrate the shooting that left at least 17 dead and 14 injured. Cruz bought the semi-automatic rifle about a year ago, and law enforcement agents said it was done legally, Buzzfeed News' Tom Namako reported.

Florida doesn't require fingerprints, a special permit, or even a waiting period to buy a gun. This is common in some parts of the US, where you can walk into a store and walk out with a semi-automatic gun in your hand in minutes.

In Virginia, you can buy a semi-automatic gun "in 15 minutes," Roanoke Firearms owner John Markell told the New York Time's Michael Barbaro. Roanoke Firearms is where Seung-Hui Cho — who killed 32 in a shooting spree on Virginia Tech's campus — bought a Glock after passing two background checks and employees' own gut checks.

It took a reporter from the Philly Inquirer seven minutes to buy an AR-15, the semi-automatic gun used in many of the US' deadliest mass shootings. In Orlando, buying the AR-15 took just 38 minutes two days after the shooting spree that killed 49 people at the city's Pulse nightclub, the Huffington Post reported.

Gun laws vary significantly based on the state. Eight states, including California and Rhode Island, impose waiting periods for the purchase of some or all firearms.

But, in states with less regulation — such as Nevada or Virginia — purchases are straightforward, speedy operations. Some states have stricter regulation for certain types of firearms, such as assault rifles, but in states with less gun regulation, semi-automatic guns are typically treated similarly to any other firearm purchase.

In most states, the store will run two background checks, a state check, and a federal check. The background checks provide nearly instantaneous results. Customers can fail the federal background check for a number of reasons, including if they are a convicted felon, fugitive from justice, or have been convicted of domestic violence.

However, in 33 states, private sellers are allowed to sell guns without performing any kind of background check — state or federal.

If the checks don't turn up any issues, the customer can then walk out with the gun or guns. In other words, if someone doesn't have a criminal record, buying a gun is usually a quick and painless process in many states.

In the case of Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock – who perpetrated the deadliest mass shooting in US history – he bought 33 firearms in the year before the crime, according to Jill Snyder, the special agent in charge at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Twelve of these were semiautomatic rifles that were rigged with legal devices that allowed the guns to fire like an automatic weapon.

All of Paddock's purchases were completely legal. With no criminal record, Paddock would pass any background check. Nevada, where Paddock lived, does not impose any waiting period on gun purchases. The state allows anyone who is at least 18 years old to own a firearm and does not limit the number of guns a person can purchase in a single sale.

In November 2016, a new gun-control law that would require sellers to conduct background checks on buyers in Nevada was narrowly passed but never enforced.