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By Janie Har January 29, 2011

Did Oregon Republican Party members raffle off an AR-15 assault rifle at the state fair?

Turner resident Suzanne Devlin recently sent a letter to the Statesman Journal, taking Sarah Palin and other Republicans to task for using gun-heavy language and then trying to distance themselves from the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others in Tucson, Ariz. , in early January.

"I volunteer at the Democratic booth at the state fair. Last summer, as is my custom, I walked over to the Republican booth. The differences between the two parties couldn't be better illustrated than what I encountered," she wrote. "While we were passing out free ice water, the Republicans were raffling off an AR-15 assault rifle."

A reader suggested PolitiFact Oregon take this on, and we found the topic interesting enough to tackle. Is a semiautomatic AR-15 an assault rifle? And were members of the Republican Party raffling one off at the Oregon State Fair?

We called Greg Leo, our go-to man at GOP state party headquarters, and asked about the rifle raffle. The state party spokesman said, "It is true." How we love easy confirmations.

Leo went on to explain that the raffle was a fundraiser to benefit the Marion County Republican Central Committee. The state fair was just one of the locations where people could buy a $5 raffle ticket, and the rifle (.223 caliber) was not on site. The winner was directed to a dealer, who processed the paperwork and handled the transaction. Gun raffles, apparently, are not uncommon. The Oregon Firearms Federation is in the midst of raffling off five AR-15 rifles.

Now, is it accurate to call an AR-15 an "assault rifle"?

Technically speaking, Kevin Starrett of the Oregon Firearms Federation says, it’s not an assault rifle because an assault rifle must be able to switch between semiautomatic -- one bullet with each trigger pull -- and fully automatic machine-gun style modes. The AR-15, in this case, is a semiautomatic only. Genuine assault rifles are hard to get in the United States, outside the military.

Still, look up the term "AR-15 assault rifle" online and you’ll find that even firearms sites describe the AR-15 as an assault rifle. When an unnamed man showed up with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle at an Obama event in Phoenix nearly two years ago, news media used both "assault weapon" and "assault rifle" to describe the firearm. (CNN here; MSNBC picking up AP here.) The Associated Press Stylebook says the correct term is assault weapon, not assault rifle.

In any case, fans say the AR-15 is terrific for hunting and target shooting; it’s versatile and precise. (Fashionable, too. Look online to find a Pepto pink Hello Kitty version.) There’s a quibble with the definition of "assault rifle," but it’s a small one. We rate this claim Mostly True.

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Did Oregon Republican Party members raffle off an AR-15 assault rifle at the state fair?

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