Post-Newtown, gun giveaways stoke debate

Posted: February 18, 2013

CONCORD, N.H. - From car dealerships to political parties to hockey teams to yes, even police chiefs, gun giveaways are an attractive way to make money or draw in customers. But after the deadly shooting rampage in a Connecticut school, such raffles are drawing criticism as the ease of obtaining firearms fuels gun-control debates.

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police is raffling off a gun every day in May, including a Ruger AR-15-style rifle with 30-round magazine similar to the one used in December in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead. The players in West Fargo's Youth Hockey Association will raffle off 200 guns and an all-terrain vehicle next month.

Both were planned long before the Newtown shooting. That didn't stop critics from blasting the raffles as, at best, in poor taste and, at worst, criminal.

John Rosenthal, founder and director of Stop Handgun Violence, called the chiefs' raffle "insane" and "criminally irresponsible."

"In 33 states - including Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont - the winner of this AR-15 can turn around the same day and sell it to anyone without an ID or background check," Rosenthal said.

In a letter posted on the chiefs association website, Salem Police Chief Paul Donovan extended his sympathies to the families of those killed in Newtown but stressed that the tragic shooting and others "are contrary to lawful and responsible gun ownership."

Donovan, who did not respond to interview requests, wrote that the raffle's rules require that winners meet all applicable state and federal laws, including background checks. The goal of the raffle - to raise $30,000 to offset the cost of the weeklong police cadet training academy - has already been met. The 1,000 raffle tickets, $30 apiece, sold out last month.

Other giveaways have had similarly inauspicious timing.

After a 2011 shooting rampage in Arizona wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six, the county Republican Party raffled off a Glock handgun to raise money for voter outreach.

Missouri State Rep. John McCaherty raised campaign funds last August by raffling off an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a month after a similar gun was used in the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting that killed 12 people and wounded 58.

Jack Kimball, chairman of Granite State Patriots and organizer of a rally last month opposing gun control, expressed anger that people are using tragic shootings to bash the chiefs. "It's hysteria that doesn't belong here," he said.

Marketing consultant Robert Sprague said he contacted Donovan, who seemed open to his offer to help promote a different kind of fund-raiser next year.

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