Clint Didier, an Eltopia farmer and former pro football player, is giving away free guns as part of his bid to replace retiring Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco.
Supporters must submit their names, ZIP codes and email addresses at Didier's website to get updates from his campaign.
The winners of the guns -- two pistols and a military-style rifle -- will be randomly chosen. The contest allows people to civilly show support for the Second Amendment at a time when it is being threatened, Didier told the Herald.
"All these shootings are occurring at gun-free zones by individuals on some type of drugs with mental issues," Didier said. "The guns are not pulling the trigger, the people are pulling the trigger. These gun-free zones are enticing people to go to these areas to do these terrible deeds."
Online gun sweepstakes have been a popular tool for Republican candidates in races across the country in 2014. High-powered rifles and pistols have been used to build donor bases and expand support in contests from a sheriff's race in California to the U.S. Senate primary in South Carolina, according to the New York Times.
Some of Didier's opponents in the Aug. 5 primary appear to be split on the issue.
Democrat Estakio Beltran of Yakima questioned the giveaway in light of events such as the fatal June 5 shooting at Seattle Pacific University.
"I am a strong upholder of the Constitution and fully support the Second Amendment rights of all Americans," Beltran said. "However, as a congressional candidate, I am sensitive to the grief that many here in Washington may be feeling as a result of recent tragedies. This may not be the most appropriate time to hold such a promotion."
Republican Glen R. Stockwell of Ritzville supports Didier's giveaway.
"I have no problem with it," Stockwell said. "I'm a firm believer that we need to keep the Second Amendment."
Independent Josh Ramirez of Pasco called the issue a "sticky wicket."
"When you start getting into guns, there's obviously mixed emotions," Ramirez said. "When you start talking about giving away guns you add another element of complication and controversy, and then there's the perception, true or not, that you're trying to buy votes. I don't know that it's necessarily wrong or immoral, but it can be perceived as crossing the line."
Republican Dan Newhouse, a former state representative and state agriculture director, did not directly address Didier's gun giveaway.
"I am a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights, having been endorsed by the NRA with their highest possible rating during my time as a legislator," Newhouse said.
Scott Boyce, campaign manager for Kennewick attorney George Cicotte, questioned whether the law allows gun giveaways.
"I'm not sure about the legality of the tactic of trading guns for votes, but it's clearly a dark gray area if not crossing the line on campaign laws," Boyce said.
One concerned Richland resident, Melvin Adams, sent a letter to state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Secretary of State Kim Wyman, questioning the legality of the giveaways.
"If this is not an attempt to bribe or reward in exchange for votes, I don't know what is," Adams wrote.
Janelle Guthrie, an Attorney General spokeswoman, said congressional election laws fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Election Commission.
Adams questioned that response.
"I'm hoping the AG isn't just trying to pass this off without taking it seriously," he said. "If this doesn't work, I'll take it down to the federal courthouse and see what the hell they're going to do. We can't have any lunatic handing out guns to get votes. I'm not anti-gun, but this is just crazy."
The Federal Election Commission cannot comment on the campaign activity of specific candidates, spokesman Christian Hilland said.
Raffles where people buy tickets for fundraising, with a chance to win prizes, are generally allowed, Hilland said. Rules for drawings where people submit their email addresses to be eligible to win prizes are not specifically addressed, however.
The prizes are two Ruger 2300 LC9 pistols and a DB-15 S rifle, including a 30-round clip with ammunition, Didier's website said. He will give away the guns when he reaches 10,000 "likes" on his Facebook page or followers on Twitter, or July 4, whichever comes sooner.
The winners will have to follow all laws -- including being of legal age and going through a background check -- to claim their prizes, Didier said.
Didier wants to show that, of the 12 candidates in the race, he is the greatest supporter of gun rights, he said.
He has been endorsed by the National Association for Gun Rights, he said. He met with National Rifle Association representatives on a recent trip to Washington, D.C., where he played for the Redskins from 1981-87, but was told that organization doesn't endorse primary candidates.
Gun rights are threatened by everything from United Nations treaties to the closure of lead factories, Didier said.
"There's just an onslaught of pressure and movement against the Second Amendment, and we've got to stop it," he said. "It's No. 2 for a reason -- to protect the other nine."
Republican opponents state Sen. Jana Holmquist Newbry of Moses Lake and Gavin Seim of Ephrata did not respond to requests for comment. Republican Gordon Allen Pross of Ellensburg, Democrat Tony Sandoval of Yakima and independent Richard Wright of Kennewick could not be reached.
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom