Why a Virginia politician is giving away a semiautomatic rifle

Corey Stewart, a Republican candidate in the Virginia race for governor, plans to give an AR-15 to one of his supporters, hoping to convey his commitment to Second Amendment rights.

Steve Helber/AP/File
Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia, Corey Stewart, speaks at the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Economic Summit at Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Va., on Dec. 2.

Pledging support for a Virginia gubernatorial candidate could come with a bonus gift: a free semiautomatic rifle.

Corey Stewart, the former Virginia state chairman of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and now candidate for governor, has offered to give an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon to one supporter, hoping the pro-run move will bolster support for his campaign.

“If elected to be your next Governor, you can be 100% CERTAIN I will never compromise on your God-given right to keep and bear arms,” Mr. Stewart wrote in a release announcing the giveaway, according to The Washington Post. “In fact, even though I’m sure it’s certain to send the liberal media into a frenzy, to show my dedication to the Second Amendment my campaign is GIVING AWAY an AR-15 to one lucky supporter.”

As gun control continues as a polarizing issue nationwide, some politicians have found favor with guns rights activists by showing their own support or affinity for the weapons. Mr. Trump has promised to protect gun rights, and a Second Amendment coalition under his new administration hopes to expand concealed carry laws nationwide.

Stewart's giveaway allows interested supporters to enter the contest on his website, where they can also choose to donate to his campaign. Entrees must be citizens of the US who are at least 18 years of age, and will have to undergo a background check if selected to win the AR-15.

As Stewart noted, the giveaway is inherently controversial. Similar semiautomatic rifles – but not the same – have been used in some of the nation’s most heinous shootings, including the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando that killed 49 this past summer (a Sig Sauer MCX rifle was used) and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (a Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S was used) that left 20 children and six adults dead.

Stewart is seeking to dismiss concerns about the guns. 

“Look, this is a rifle that people are permitted to own in the United States. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Stewart told the Post. “It’s a semiautomatic rifle. It is not an assault rifle. This is a great hunting rifle, and it’s also great for recreation use.”

While vocal support for gun rights is not unusual among Republican politicians, publicity stunts like the one Stewart is attempting to pull off might not be enough to carry him to victory.

A Missouri senate race became hotly contested this fall after little-known Democratic challenger Jason Kander released an ad in which he assembled a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle while blindfolded, leading him to become a serious challenger to incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt (R). But in the end, Mr. Kander’s firearms prowess and calls to “drain the swamp” weren’t enough to propel him to victory.

Whether or not Virginia’s voters will find favor with Stewart’s appeal remains to be seen, but a national push for expanded gun concealed carry rights could gain ground under President-elect Trump.

“Basically, every executive order that Obama issued on firearms I would like to see rescinded,” John Boch, the executive director of the gun rights group Guns Save Life and co-chair of Trump's Second Amendment Coalition, told NPR Sunday. “Frankly, I'd like to see a lot of executive orders that, you know, the two Bush presidents put forth relating to guns and Bill Clinton, I'd like to see those struck as well.”

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