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Hundreds of the weapons advertised on classifieds are rapid-firing military weapons with pedigrees from around the world.

The proliferation of these weapons, based on military designs, including the ubiquitous AK-47 by Mikhail Kalashnikov, have become wildly popular among shooting enthusiasts. And that popularity is a grave concern to gun-control activists.

"I don't know how anyone can justify having one of those weapons," says Steven Gunn, a spokesman for the Gun Violence Protection Center of Utah. "Except their usual explanation that it is to 'resist tyrannical government.' "

From a third to half of the rifles offered in recent weeks on fell into the category of auto-loading weapons based on military designs. Rifles for sale included distinctive AK-47s made in Bulgaria and Romania ($490 to $925), variations on the U.S. military's small arm AR-15s ($600 to $700) and obsolete Chinese and former Eastern Bloc SKS semiautomatics that have flooded the market ($275 to $325).

Last week, two scoped .50-caliber sniper rifles were offered for sale, ranging in price from $2,000 to $4,900. These single-shot rifles, which fire a .50-caliber machine-gun cartridge, are capable of shooting down an airplane from the end of a runway or punching through a railroad tank car at long distances, gun-control activists say.

"These are such fearsome weapons, I don't understand why Congress lets them be sold to the general population," Gunn says. "When you question these folks [gun-rights advocates], they don't have a good explanation, except: 'It's my right to do it.' Their right trumps the right of other citizens to live in a safe society? It's a very selfish view."

The military-style semiautomatic rifles and carbines are absolutely legal, says gun-rights lobbyist Clark Aposhian, who refers to the rifles as "sport-utility weapons."

"They are accurate, utterly dependable and you can use them for target shooting, home defense and hunting," says Aposhian, who owns many of the firearms that Gunn abhors.

These weapons may seem more at home on the battlefields of Afghanistan than on Utah's gun ranges, but Aposhian says they are the fastest-growing firearms market in the country.

Rapid-firing military weapons constitute about 70 percent of the sales at Doug's Shoot 'n' Sports in Midvale, says sales manager Mike Larsen.

He underscores their appeal: "They're popular, they're sexy, and they're affordable," Larsen says. He's also aware of the dread these firearms strike in the uninitiated: "It's the black gun, the evil gun."

Aposhian shrugs off questions about the need for civilians to own weapons that at the top end include fully automatic submachine guns (for which an owner would need a federal license). Few of these military-type arms are involved in crimes, let alone used to shoot down civilian aircraft, he says.

"The Second Amendment is not about what I need," Aposhian says. "It's about what I want — as long as I obey the law with it. If we start restricting everything to what we need, we are going to be a very boring society." @gwarchol