Facebook scraps GOP congressional candidate's AR-15 giveaway posts

FILE - In this March 7, 2016, file photo, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, speaks during a legislative session in Tallahassee, Fla.

FILE - In this March 7, 2016, file photo, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, speaks during a legislative session in Tallahassee, Fla.  (AP)

A Florida congressional candidate said Wednesday his contest to give away a semi-automatic rifle is still on despite the original post being taken down by Facebook.

Greg Evers, who is running in the Republican primary for the open seat in Florida’s 1st District, announced Monday he’s giving away a “Homeland Defender” AR-15 rifle on July 4.

But Monday night, Facebook pulled a post about the contest showing the rifle after receiving numerous complaints for "promoting graphic violence" and "describing the purchase or sales of drugs, guns or regulated progress."

Facebook flagged another post sowing the rules for entering the contest.

Last January, Facebook imposed a policy barring private individuals from advertising or selling firearms on the social media network.

Evers’ campaign said someone in California reported the post. Brian Burgess, a campaign spokesman, said they had anticipated someone would object but that likes and shares are still being tracked.

The original post received more than 1,100 likes and nearly 900 shares.

Evers said on his Facebook page Wednesday that he’s become a target for gun advocates.

The custom-built rifle will be given away at random person who shared and like Evers’ page or signed up on his campaign website. It’s open to only adults in the district who must pass all required background and security checks.

As of Wednesday, Evers' page had received over 4,800 likes and nearly 2,100 shares.

Evers' promotion came barely a week after a shooting at a gay nightclub killed 49 people in Orlando, a roughly five-hour drive from the Florida Panhandle district Evers seeks to represent. Gunman Omar Mateen used a semi-automatic rifle that was mechanically different from an AR-15 but had similar design features.

"The giveaway is tasteless, disrespectful and disgusting political pandering at its worst. He should be ashamed," said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of the gay and transgender rights group Equality Florida. "Giving a complete stranger the same style assault rifle just used to murder 49 people, most of whom have not yet even had funerals, is grotesque."

This is not the only contest involving an AR-15 in a congressional race. Tennessee state representative Andy Holt is giving away two rifles during an event Saturday with candidates for that state's 8th Congressional District.

In 2014, AR-15 rifles were part of giveaways in at least three U.S. House or Senate races.

Evers is one of five candidates running in the Aug. 30 Republican primary for the seat being vacated by Rep. Jeff Miller. Evers has served in the Florida Legislature since 2001, including the Senate the past six years. The National Rifle Association has given him an A-plus grade for the past 15 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report