People who had hoped to win an AR-15 rifle as a raffle prize at a Rocky Run Fire Co. fundraiser in Media, Philadelphia may be disappointed.
Due to the mass shootings at Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, N.Y. where gunmen used AR-15-style rifles to kill, the volunteer fire station aEUR", which was also giving away a 9 mm pistol, and a shotgun aEUR", decided to give the prizes in cash instead.
According to Assistant Fire Chief Mike Johnson, it was all about optics. "This was a bad timing decision."
Gun raffles are a popular way of raising money for various causes. Some organizers are reconsidering their events lately, even if it's just temporarily.
The Lake Villa Township Republican Club, outside Chicago, has postponed their annual fundraiser in the wake of recent shootings. It had planned to raffle an AR-15-type rifle along with other firearms.
Dick Barr, vice-chair of the organization, said that the decision was taken "out of respect for families of victims in Texas."
Given recent events, he believes that allowing the raffle to go ahead would have been a distraction. Barr states that the conversation should be about how to prevent such things from happening. He suggests focusing on mental and physical health.
He defends gun giveaways, saying that if they are properly structured, they will adhere to federal and state guidelines. He says that raffles are "literally the most secure way to obtain a firearm" because all winners must have identification and submit to background checks. All guns are purchased through licensed firearms dealers.
A similar gun giveaway was held in Aliquippa, Pittsburgh. It featured a Glock 9mm pistol and 250 rounds. The local K9 police unit cancelled it.
"Due to bad publicity and negative feedback from others, I am going to seize this current sportsman package raffle. Aliquippa Police Facebook page announced that everyone would be reimbursed for their purchases. This was two days after the attack at Uvalde's primary school, which resulted in the deaths of 19 children and two teachers. A follow-up post was posted later that day, noting that hate mail is flooding in because society is too sensitive.
Aliquippa Police Chief John Lane admits that it was "bad timing", just like Rocky Run. The proceeds were supposed to be donated to Lane's widow, who also died in 2020.
According to him, in the past, sergeants with the K9 unit have raffled other items than guns. He's also done lawn furniture and cigars. The gun raffle is the best.
Lane claims that, despite calling the raffle off in the wake of the Uvalde shootings, the community was in favor of the event being held anyway. He says, "I can understand why some people don't like it." It can be both.
Despite recent shootings, the National Rifle Association held a Houston gathering. Contest description: "12 world-class guns Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want to ban",
Multiple requests for comment from the NRA regarding the raffle were not answered.
In recent years, gun raffles have become more common in rural America. They raise money for local police and fire departments, civic organizations, and even politicians. David Yamane is a Wake Forest University professor of sociology and studies gun culture.
Yamane states, "We live in distinctly different worlds when it comes to guns."
Yamane states, "You know some people only think about guns in relation to... inner-city violence or random mass killings." Yamane adds.
He adds that "no New York City used car dealer is going to give away any gun with a buy of a car."
JB Smith, executive director of Deep East Texas Crime Stoppers Inc. says that most contests follow the Lufkin-based non-profit crime tip line's annual 50-Gun/50 Day raffle drawings. Winners and contest organizers never exchange weapons. The actual prize is a gift certificate for the amount of the raffled firearm that can be given to a local gun shop or sporting goods store. The background check and sale are then handled by the store.
Raffles are intended to comply with the law and prevent organizers from being involved in any sale that could cause complications.
Smith says, "So, if they get a pistol for $250 and they get $250 gift cards... they could go through all of the background checks to legally purchase the pistol."
Or they could not. They could instead use the same certificate for other purchases at the same store. According to his local sporting goods store, only a few of the raffle winners actually buy guns. They spend the money on other things, such as camping gear, shoes, and so forth.
This means that anyone who has been convicted of a felony and cannot purchase a Texas gun can still win the gift card and be eligible for another prize.
Smith claims that most winners don’t follow through on purchasing the firearm they were awarded, but he admits that the idea of winning a gun attracts attention and helps to fill fundraising coffers.
Conservative politicians have also tapped into America’s gun culture. They not only promote "Second Amendment Rights", but appear with guns in campaign ads, show them off at rallies, or even raffle firearms.
According to The Washington Post, Corey Stewart, an attorney, gave away an AR-15 in 2017 as part of his unsuccessful campaign for Republican governorship in Virginia.
These types of political fundraising are illegal not because of the guns but because political campaigns don't qualify for a "charitable gambling" exemption for non-profits, Virginia's former Attorney General Mark Herring stated in a 2018 opinion. Jason Miyares, Jason's successor to Herring, sent an email to NPR stating that "political parties or candidate's campaign committees can not hold raffles of any type." He also stated: "This Attorney General opinion is valid and the only opinion in the matter."
Stewart has since returned to private practice as a lawyer, but he declined to speak to NPR, stating that he was "out of politics."