THE VICTIMS of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy were shot with a Bushmaster .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle.

The gun - legal to own in Pennsylvania - is a civilian version of the military M-16 and similar to the weapon used in the recent mall shooting in Oregon.

Versions of the AR-15 were outlawed in the United States under the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. That law expired in 2004, and Congress did not renew it.

But, legal or not, does anyone need to own such a high-powered gun? Bob Kostaras, owner of Classic Pistol in Southampton, Bucks County, and Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, debate:

Kostaras: "We have people here all day shooting them . . . For some, it's a social thing, it's a sport. Any weapon - a baseball bat, a car with a drunk driver behind the wheel - is much more dangerous and much more liable to kill somebody. Unfortunately, this person was mentally unstable and had access to the firearm that should have been kept out of his reach."

Goodman: "Maybe this isn't something that everybody should just be able to have access to. Since there is access to them, that adds to the stream of guns that can then become illegal guns. Types of weapons that are available is a problem, but I believe it's only part of the problem, because certainly we've seen much devastation with handguns or other kinds of rifles that people might have for" legitimate purposes.

- Daily News wire services

were used in this report.