An Illinois gun shop is holding a raffle for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to raise money for the victims of the Orlando shooting.
The raffle has struck a chord with many Americans for whom the AR-15 has become emblematic of the highly fraught debate around the role of assault weapons in American culture. To gun-rights advocates, the AR-15 is "America's gun," a lightweight weapon that is ideal for target practice, self defense, and hunting. Proponents of gun-control, however, point to the AR-15 and other semi-automatic weapons like that have been used in mass shootings as evidence that the expired ban on assault weapons should be reinstated.
Orlando shooter Omar Mateen used a similar weapon, the Sig Sauer MCX, during the June 12 attack that left 49 people dead and another 53 injured, the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
Second Amendment Sports in McHenry, Ill., will donate the funds to the OneOrlando Fund, which is run by Strengthen Orlando Inc., a nonprofit to benefit families of the victims and the shooting's survivors.
"We wanted to do something for the loss of lives and injuries that happened to people in Orlando," Bert Irslinger Jr., a co-owner of the store, told the Chicago Tribune.
Mr. Irslinger and co-owner Bert Irslinger Sr., his father, have said they would contribute an additional $2,000 to the fund.
"I understand that there are different opinions out there," Vic Santi, the store marketing director, told the Tribune. "We don't look at this as a gun issue. We look at this as a terrorism issue."
Kathleen Larimer, whose son was killed with the 2012 attack on an Aurora, Co. movie theater, which also used a semi-automatic gun, told The Tribune that the raffle was offensive.
"Guns are not toys," she said. "They should be taken seriously. I'm not saying they should be illegal, but raffling off a gun is not taking its killing power seriously."
Calls to re-instate the former federal assault weapons ban, in place from 1994 to 2004, have been renewed since the Orlando shooting. Yet efforts to update legislation have been stymied, in part, by Americans' differing views of such firearms and their purposes.
Earlier this month, Richard Aborn, the president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City and a national expert on gun control legislation, told The Christian Science Monitor that military-style weapons are inextricably tied to mass shootings.
"Assault weapons are military weapons designed for close-quarters combat," he says. "That's why you see them over and over and over again in these mass shootings. They are being used precisely the way they were designed: to slaughter people."
Others argue that such weapons serve other functions, however, and the AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America. The National Shooting Sports Foundation believes there are as many as 8 million AR-15 style and similar rifles in circulation, as the Monitor reported.
Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, says "banning the AR-15 would be like banning a golfer's favorite driver."
"It's versatile, and I use it for defense," Paul Valone, an AR-15 owner from Bryson City, N.C, told the Monitor. "That’s why it's 'America's rifle.' "
It's a nickname embraced by the National Rifle Association, whose website says "It's time to eliminate the misconception that AR stands for assault rifle, and tell the world what AR really stands for: America's Rifle." The "AR" in AR-15, however, stands for "ArmaLite rifle," named for the first company to develop it, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Regardless of its name, however, many Chicagoans and webizens felt that the raffle, if well-intentioned, was inappropriate.