The blocky phrase AR-15 sticks out like a poorly parked car these days, particularly when it's stretched across the news following a deadly mass shooting.
It was the rifle used to murder 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando; the weapon used to kill 14 people in San Bernardino, California; 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School; 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; and ten people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
So we couldn't help but notice the phrase in a release sent to us this week by 5.11 Tactical, a store selling "purpose-built gear for the most demanding missions,” alerting us about its grand opening event this weekend. The event will include free James Coney Island hot dogs, free Kona Ice snow cones—and also a chance to win a free AR-15 as a raffle prize, along with other guns, including a Glock 43 and Smith & Wesson Shield.
The store, which sells lots of outdoor gear, fitness apparel, and law enforcement uniforms, doesn't even sell guns.
Having just read about that weapon a few dozen times following the Orlando massacre, we found it to be an odd prize and called the management with a few questions — namely, why this
To be clear, there are rules. The first rule, not stated in the release or on its social media announcement, is that only law enforcement officers can enter to win the assault rifle, a manager named Trey told us. (The other guns: Have at it, people.) Next, 5.11 Tactical will alert the winning police officer, after verifying he or she is in fact a police officer through the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, that he or she has won the gun.
The manager will send the winner to the gun shop that has a partnership with the store for this raffle (Trey wouldn't tell us who the partner store was; 5.11 Tactical also has a policy to not give out employees' last names). And there, the winning police officer will undergo a quick background check and, voila, go home with their brand new assault rifle if they pass.
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“Once it's in their hands,” Trey said, “it's their prerogative whether they use it on duty or for personal use.”
Assuming officers couldn't just bring a new assault rifle to work in the morning, we asked the Houston Police Department about its firearm policies. Only certain specially trained and certified officers in specific divisions are allowed to carry assault rifles on the job, spokesman John Cannon said.
Even though the guns will only be given to trusted law enforcement officers (well, that said, let us also remember the recent case of former Precinct 5 deputy Kenneth Caplan, who nearly killed a woman with his personal-use gun after an episode of road rage), we pressed Trey further about why 5.11 Tactical wanted to give away such a dangerous gun in the first place.
“We do this all the time,” he told us. “It's just a semi-automatic rifle; that's all it is.”