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Mississippi church sparks controversy for offering AR-15 rifles as raffle prize days after Las Vegas mass shooting

(Reuters/Mike Blake)Morning light reflects off the Mandalay Bay hotel and the broken windows where shooter Stephen Paddock conducted his shooting spree.

A church in Mississippi is facing criticism for offering two AR-15 semi-automatic rifles as raffle prize just days after a same type of gun was used in the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 58 people in Las Vegas.

The Oasis Church of All Nations is auctioning off the weapons in a competition in an effort to raise funds for its drug addiction treatment center, according to Daily Mail.

The auction caught the attention of Matt Sessums who was approached by a child asking him to buy raffle tickets while he was stopping at his local Walmart Supercentrer in Oxford, Mississippi.

"I see this one little girl in particular, you know, pointing to the thing about the AR-15 raffle and getting people to buy tickets. It just kind of blew my mind that little kids were participating in something like that," Sessums said, as reported by South China Morning Post.

Sessums' neighbor, Kris Belden-Adams, was also struck by the same sight when she went to Walmart to buy a birthday gift for one of her kids to take to a party.

"I had a kid approach me: 'Would you like to join a raffle? We've got two AR-15s.' And I'm like, whoa," Belden-Adams recounted.

"We have flags still half-mast for the Las Vegas shooting here in Oxford. I thought it was in bad taste at this time to be auctioning an AR-15, the same weapon used in Las Vegas. Or one of them," she added.

When Belden-Adams got home, she contacted the church to express her concerns about the timing of the raffle.

The church's Facebook page indicated that the proceeds from the auction will go toward its Transformations Life Centre, "a 12-month long drug discipleship program for those addicted."

Danny Budd, director of the Transformation Life Centre, told Belden-Adams at the time that the church so far has received a "very positive response to the Ticket sell and no negative response."

"We believe in the Second Amendment and the First Amendment. For some, there would never be a right time to raffle any fire arm. We respect your concern and message," Budd added.

As the news of the competition spread, the church's Facebook page was inundated with angry comments, prompting the church to delete all of its social media accounts. It is not clear whether the church had stopped the raffle, or whether it will still go ahead.

AR-15 rifles were among the cache of weapons found in the hotel room of Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock. The same type of weapon has also been used in other mass shootings in the U.S. in recent years.

Daily Mail noted that versions of the weapon have been used by Batman cinema shooter James Holmes and San Bernardino terrorists Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, among others.

Paddock reportedly modified his AR-15 rifles with a legally purchased "bump stock" in order to fire up to 800 rounds per minute at the crowd attending a music festival on Oct. 1.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has indicated that it may embrace possible restrictions on bump stock devices, but it opposed an outright ban.

Chris Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, argued that there has been too much public focus on placing restrictions on the devices rather than preventing bad human behavior. He further noted that regulating the sale of bump stocks was the responsibility of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, not Congress.

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