HOUSTON—A congressman from the Houston area has launched an unusual political publicity stunt, staging a sweepstakes to give away an assault-style rifle.
U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman’s campaign is now accepting entries through its website for an AR-15 Bushmaster, an especially popular weapon among many gun enthusiasts.
The reaction from his staunchly conservative district ranges from bemusement to enthusiasm to disgust, but it seems generally positive.
“I think it’s awesome!” said Wes Dale, a Tea Party supporter who was chowing down on lunch at King’s Barbecue and Steak in LaPorte. “Lock and load!”
Sitting a few tables away, Maria Koegel didn’t find it at all funny.
“I think it’s terrible,” Koegel said. “Those high-powered guns, they don’t belong in people’s hands. I think it’s great for the military, and I believe everybody should be able to have a gun, but I think there should be a limit.”
Stockman’s campaign website invites people to register for a chance to “Win the gun Obama wants to ban,” an AR-15 Bushmaster. It’s a straight-up sweepstakes, requiring no donation or purchase. Whoever wins the weapon will have to claim it through a licensed firearms dealer, but only after going through dealer’s background check.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Stockman’s campaign started selling some provocative bumper stickers saying, “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.” His website invites buyers to “Get the stickers liberals hate!”
Stockman’s stances courting gun-rights voters have attracted attention for decades now, ever since he won his first congressional seat during the 1994 Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich.
Shortly into his first term, he wrote an article for Guns & Ammo saying President Clinton encouraged the Branch Davidian compound raid to build a political case for banning assault weapons.
More recently, he briefly discussed impeaching President Barack Obama if the White House decided to implement new gun regulations through executive action.
Stockman, who invited Ted Nugent as his guest to the State of the Union address, represents a heavily Republican congressional district stretching all the way from LaPorte and Clear Lake in the Houston area to Jasper in East Texas. Even for Texas, where gun ownership is generally considered a sacred birthright, it’s an especially strong area of support for the Second Amendment. So the promotion plays especially well with his base of voters.
“The story isn’t controversial in his district,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst. “It’s just more name recognition.”
Some of Stockman’s constituents openly chuckle about his AR-15 sweepstakes.
“I think he’s a Texan,” said Dean Dollens, a Vietnam War veteran sporting an “I Voted” sticker on his baseball cap. “Must be. That’s a good deal. I’m even going to enter my wife’s name.”
Stockman’s gun giveaway has gained him some new notoriety on conservative talk radio, where talk show hosts have enthusiastically embraced the idea.
“Everybody should have AR-15s as giveaway items, if you can get one,” said Dale. “It’s very difficult to get one right now.”
Congressmen usually clamor for chances to appear on television, but Stockman’s staff has repeatedly rejected requests for an interview on the sweepstakes, saying the congressman is too busy to talk.
“Am I going to enter?” asked Terry Trehearn, one of Stockman’s constituents who heard about it on the radio. “Might as well. Why not?”