On Friday, Tennessee state Rep. Andy Holt unveiled plans for an upcoming fundraiser at his family farm later this month. The event, according to an invitation posted on the lawmaker’s blog, will feature a roasted hog, a petting zoo, live music and “hay rides for the kids.”
“Oh, did I mention we’re giving away an AR-15 as the door prize!” the invitation adds.
Hours later, as Saturday night spilled into Sunday morning, Omar Mateen walked into Pulse nightclub in Orlando with a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle — a weapon similar to the AR-15 — and began shooting club-goers. When the bodies were tallied, 49 people were dead, dozens more were injured and one of central Florida’s most popular gay nightclubs had become the setting for the worst mass shooting in modern American history.
Instead of canceling his gun giveaway, as some critics called for, Holt had another idea.
“That’s right…. I’m now giving away TWO AR-15s!” he wrote on Facebook on Monday. “I’m sick and tired of the media and liberal politicians attacking our right to keep and bear arms. I’ll do everything I can to ensure the 2nd Amendment is protected and people are equipped to exercise their innate right to self-defense.”
Holt told the Tennessean that he remains convinced that the weapon used Orlando’s mass shooting has no bearing on the massacre. The paper noted that Holt has sponsored multiple gun bills, including one recently passed into law that gives full-time employees at Tennessee colleges and universities the ability to carry weapons on campus.
“It has nothing to do with the style of weapon,” he told the paper. “It has everything to do with who’s behind the weapon.”
In a statement published by Fox affiliate WZTV, Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini called Holt a “reckless” gun owner and blasted his timing,
“…we’re furious that in the wake of this tragedy, state Rep. Andy Holt is being such a reckless and irresponsible gun owner,” the statement said. “Responsible gun owners don’t give away guns without background checks. Responsible gun owners make sure that guns are safely and securely stored to prevent access by children or irresponsible adults. Responsible gun owners don’t put guns in the hands of strangers. Andy Holt doesn’t know if he’s putting the winning raffle ticket in the hands of the next mass shooter.”
“We’re also furious that when 18% of all hate crimes are committed against the LGBTQ+ community, Andy Holt continues to fan the flames of hatred towards that community by making jokes that demean them and statements that blatantly define them as different, wrong, and scary,” the statement added.
On Tuesday, Holt posted a message on his website that says a man using a Memphis phone number called his office Monday and threatened the lawmaker and his legislative assistant. The message said that the caller — who did not identify himself — promised to “kick his a**” and that he would be coming to Nashville on Tuesday to”pay him a visit.”
In a recording of the exchange posted on Holt’s site, the caller makes no mention of why he’s upset or whether it stems from the lawmaker’s gun giveaway. The caller indicates that he has “plenty of guns, and a license to carry.” While the caller didn’t speak of any political affiliation, Holt referred to the individual as “a liberal activist” and called on Democratic lawmakers to condemn the individual’s behavior.
Assault-style rifles, like the one used in the Orlando shooting and those being given away by Holt, have been the weapon of choice for mass shooters in recent years, as The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham recently reported:
Six months ago, in San Bernardino, Calif., a man and woman armed with assault-style rifles killed 14 people and wounded 20 others at a holiday party.
In 2012, in Aurora, Colo., a man armed with an assault-style rifle killed 12 people and wounded 58 others in a crowded movie theater.
Also in 2012, in Newtown Conn., a man armed with an assault-style rifle killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school.
In the past 10 years, Ingraham noted, assault-style rifles have been used in 14 public mass shootings, half of which have occurred since last June.
The weapon’s potential for inflicting mass harm in a short time has even been noted by terrorists. In 2011, al-Qaeda encouraged its followers to take advantage of lax guns laws, purchase assault-style weapons and use them to shoot people, Ingraham reported.
“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” American-born al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn said in a video. “You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”
Gadahn’s characterization, while mostly accurate, failed to point out that the sale of fully automatic weapons, which shoot continuously when you hold down the trigger, have been banned since 1986.
Within hours of this weekend’s mass shooting, Holt posted on Facebook that he was furious, both about the attack and the criticism he was getting about giving away weapons while the accounting for the dead, missing and injured continued in Orlando.
“I’m furious that I get phone calls from the media asking me if I’m still going to give away an AR-15 at our HogFest, rather than asking me how many extra firearms I’ll be handing out to ensure people can protect themselves,” he wrote. “After all, it was a bullet that stopped the terrorist. Amazing how so many seem to miss that fact.”