Government & Politics

A Kansas candidate for Congress is continuing his AR-15 giveaway, despite backlash

A Leavenworth Republican looking to replace U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in Kansas’ second congressional district is giving away an AR-15 rifle for his campaign — and he has no plans to stop it despite social media pushback in light of Wednesday’s Florida mass school shooting.

Tyler Tannahill, a Marine veteran, on Tuesday posted on his campaign Facebook and Twitter pages: “As an avid sportsman, I’m excited to announce our first AR-15 Giveaway! You can earn multiple entries and no purchase is necessary to win! Enter today:”

AR-15 giveaway
Tyler Tannahill, a Kansas Congressional candidate, posted this on his campaign Facebook page on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, one day before a 19-year-old former student shot down 17 people inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The gunman used his own AR-15 to carry out the mass shooting. Facebook

That was one day before a 19-year-old former student killed 17 people inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The gunman used his own AR-15 to carry out the mass shooting.

“No individual is for school shootings. It’s heartbreaking ... being a parent, our thoughts on that, for me personally, I am a strong believer in the Second Amendment,” Tannahill said in an interview with The Star. “I think we need to have a discussion of what can be done and throwing out comments of displeasure isn’t going to solve it.”

Tannahill said his campaign was giving away the gun in support of the Second Amendment. He also said the contest was planned a month ago to coincide with the Kansas Republican Convention this weekend in Wichita.

Hours after the Florida shooting, Tannahill posted to social media that he and his wife were “heartbroken to learn of the tragedy” and shared a link to a nonprofit program by the Buckeye Firearms Foundation called FASTER.

According to the nonprofit’s website, the program gives teachers and staff “practical violence response training” in the event of an armed threat to students.

Tannahill said he supports the idea of the training program for educators, adding “I don’t think more laws could have prevented this (the Florida shooting).”

“We’re not trying to raise money off the school shooting,” Tannahill said. “We do want to find a solution and I think this FASTER program is something we can look into implementing.”

But Facebook and Twitter users weren’t having it.

Commenters on Tannahill’s social media accounts called the contest “tone deaf,” “ridiculous” and described it as “part of the problem.”

The Facebook post promoting the AR-15 giveaway has more than 450 comments and has been shared more than 700 times since it was posted Tuesday.

Contest rules on the campaign website state participants must be 18 or older and must “meet all legal requirements to purchase and own a firearm.”

According to Tannahill, the winner of the contest is required to go into a gun store where the gun is being held on layaway. The winner must pass federal background checks before the gun can be released, he said. The campaign website also said the giveaway includes “a Bushmaster Model 91048 with MSRP $739.00 or similar.”

Another Kansas congressional candidate, Brent Welder, called for a ban on assault weapons in the wake of the shooting.

“Thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s time for action. I demand that Congress reinstate the ban on assault weapons... Hunters don’t use assault weapons — mass murderers do. They must be illegal,” said Welder, a Democrat running to unseat U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District.

This is the second local congressional candidate who has used an AR-15 giveaway as part of a campaign. In September, Austin Petersen, running for U.S. Senate in Missouri, got himself barred from Facebook for 30 days after livestreaming a raffle to give away the popular rifle to his fans.

Staff writer Bryan Lowry and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kaitlyn Schwers: 816-234-7909, @kaitlynschwers