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Explainer: The hidden differences between Hong Kong police rifles

The infamous AR15 is a regular sight at Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, appearing sporadically from last April, before being deployed en masse during the police siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and routinely ever since.

There is much misunderstanding about this rifle, and its use by the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF). Largely this misunderstanding is rooted in the use of an intentionally similar-looking, less-lethal weapon system by the HKPF, the Pepperball VKS (Variable Kinetic System). These two weapons are totally different.

A Sig 516 being carried during the Hong Kong Polytechnic Siege. This was the first time this rifle was deployed to the protests. Photo: CampusTV, University of Hong Kong Student Union via Facebook.

The AR15 and its many derivatives have been in service with the American military since the Vietnam war. The weapon has also found its way into the service of dozens of other militaries and police forces, either through legitimate means, such as the examples used by the HKPF, or illegitimately, such as the unlicensed copies manufactured by the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

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