LOVELAND -- To the Loveland gun shop that recently donated an assault-style rifle for a gun-rights group's promotion, the gift was not a big deal.

But for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the Colt AR-15 is a lightning-rod weapon that represents the renewed battle over gun rights in Colorado.

The Windsor-based organization is sponsoring a drawing for the rifle donated by Jensen Arms to help the group "increase the size of our pro-gun army," according to an email from RMGO.

"We've given guns to quite a few organizations," said Jensen Arms manager Mike Rigg. "Almost all of them are AR-15s."

The AR-15 is a civilian version of the military M-16 rifle. Unlike the fully automatic military weapon, it is semiautomatic, which means it shoots one round per trigger pull.

Some versions of the gun fell under a federal ban from 1994 to 2004, and the rifle frequently is held up as an example in the gun-control debate. It was used in some recent mass shootings, including the Aurora theater killings last year.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners executive director Dudley Brown said his group specifically selected the AR-15 for its first-ever gun giveaway.

"We're giving away a firearm that is likely to be banned in the Colorado Legislature unless we defeat it," he said. "We know we're facing literally dozens of gun control bills in the Legislature this year."

Brown said response to the first email RMGO sent about a week ago has been "a resounding success."

"We've activated tens of thousands of Colorado gun owners by this one giveaway," he said. "Firearms in the hands of law-abiding Colorado citizens is a good thing, not a bad thing."

Jensen Arms' Rigg said the gun is classified as a "modern sporting rifle," and he said people use it for "competition, hunting, general plinking and self-defense."

The rifle the Loveland shop donated to Rocky Mountain Gun Owners is new and carries the standard 20-round magazine, he said. It retails at $1,392.

Rigg said the store donated the gun "to help them fight for our gun rights."

He objected to the reaction against such weapons. "One lunatic with a one-ton pickup can cause more mayhem" in a crowd of pedestrians, he said.

"Evil lurks in the heart of man, and nobody wants to call evil evil."

Craig Young can be reached at 635-3634 or Follow him on Twitter: @CraigYoungRH.