Chicago: A US congressional candidate in the Midwestern state of Kansas held firm that he plans to give away the same type of weapon used in the Florida school shooting as a campaign raffle prize. Republican Tyler Tannahill's campaign promised to hand out a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle in the free raffle, organised prior to yesterday's shooting.
Tannahill is running as a gun rights-supporting abortion foe in a Republican-leaning congressional district. "Obviously, my wife and myself -- our hearts are very heavy for those individuals," affected by the Florida high school shooting, Tannahill said. But he added, "We can't punish legal, responsible gun ownership for individuals who break the law."
More than 400 people had already entered the raffle, said the former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. "(The AR-15) is one of the most popular rifles in America," he said.
Tannahill's campaign effort generated negative backlash on social media, with some questioning its timing in the aftermath of the shooting that killed 17 people. "If you have any decency you will take down your AR-15 giveaway on Facebook. Be less tone deaf," said Matthew Herbert on Twitter.
"Shame on you," said Amy Hempleman on Facebook. "An AR-15 has nothing to do with being a sportsman." Tannahill expressed no reservations about the raffle's timing, which was organised to coincide with the Kansas Republican Party Convention that starts Friday.
But, he conceded, "The unfortunate events from yesterday did kind of change the dialogue." "We have to have better training, better awareness, and a strong mental health platform."
Florida attack was the 18th school shooting since January 1 in the United States, which loses around 33,000 people to gun violence every year.