Florida Republican giving away AR-15 assault rifle just week after deadliest US mass shooting

AR-15 rifle © Rick Wilking
A Florida Republican running for Congress has launched a Facebook competition to give away an AR-15 rifle, because “terrorism [is] on the rise.” This comes a week after a similar rifle was used in America’s deadliest mass shooting to date – also in Florida.

Just a five-hour drive away, in Orlando, 49 people were gunned down and 53 wounded at the Pulse gay nightclub on June 12. But for candidate Greg Evers of the Florida Panhandle congressional district, that was all the more reason to host the competition.

Calling the AR-15 assault rifle by its other name – ‘Homeland Defender’ – Evers took to Facebook to promote his campaign. If you Like his page and share a post from it, you’re entered and have a chance to be randomly selected to receive the semi-automatic gun. It’s a special version, with text from the Second Amendment etched into a metal plate next to the trigger guard.

"With terrorism incidents on the rise, both at home and abroad, protecting our constitutional rights has never been more important," Evers says on his campaign website. "With all that's happening in the world today, I've never felt stronger about the importance of the second amendment in protecting our homeland than I do now."

A proud member of the National Rifle Association for 15 years, Evers is all for the broad right to bear arms. “I’m not counting on Obama or Congress to protect me from terrorism, and neither should you,” he wrote on Facebook.

Despite the social backlash against guns gaining more traction in the United States, Evers finds himself in an advantageous position in his home state, probably betting on the rural district, one of Florida’s most conservative.

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He’ll be running against four other candidates on August 30.

The idea to hold the Homeland Defender Giveaway didn’t come out of Orlando per se, rather as a reaction to the public criticism of a Tennessee lawmaker, who had planned a similar giveaway to take place before the Orlando shootings happened. The Tennessee rep in question, Andy Holt, is still planning the giveaway, except with two rifles involved.

In 2014, the AR-15 was a giveaway in no less than three Senate races, according to AP.

"I've always been a supporter of the Second Amendment. Terrorism and ISIS is a constant threat," he told the news agency, referring also to the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group.

However, being a member of the NRA with an A-plus grade doesn’t always mean you’re the kind of politician who takes an assault rifle to go grocery shopping. Evers’ biggest rival is Matt Gaetz, who likewise enjoys a high standing with the Association. He took an opposing view of the Evers’ grand giveaway.

"This is a campaign gimmick. Instead of giving away something that benefits one, he should have found a way to make all Floridians safer," Gaetz said.

The AR-15 is very similar to the rifle used by Omar Mateen, the IS sympathizer who went on the rampage in Orlando a week ago. The AR-15 was used in other mass shootings, most notably in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, when James Holmes gunned down 12 people at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises – the final in the latest Batman trilogy. It was also used in Connecticut and San Bernardino earlier this year.