This is something I guarantee will be an issue. And I would also say it reminds me of something that’s doing possibly the wrong thing for the right reason.
There is a charity raffle happening where the prizes include $100 in cash, a Savage .22-caliber bolt-action rifle, and a Colt AR-15 5.56mm Carbine rifle. The guns had been donated to the Chester County Deputy Sheriffs Association from a county resident.
The raffle, which is being held to benefit the Chester County Sheriff Department’s K-9 unit programs, will be held at the Downingtown Country Club on May 13. Raffle tickets are $20 each. According to Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, the proceeds from the raffle will go to paying for training in the department’s K-9 units. She noted that the recent training of a K-9 arson dog cost more than $6,000, none of which comes from taxpayer funds.
I applaud the sheriff for her work. She seems to be someone who cares about her department and her county and has a sincere heart. But in this instance I believe there are probably better ways to raise funds.
And here are my reasons why, of which there are only a few.
First, in the current climate of what I’d call gun nervousness, any talk of assault-style weapons draws a crowd. For example, in Philadelphia a few weeks ago an assault-style weapon was used in one murder and suspected in a second shooting. Also, there was a report that an assault-style weapon disappeared from the Philadelphia Police evidence room. That shook the police department to the point where the police commissioner ordered new locks.
The mere mention of assault-style weapons brings to mind some of the notorious mass murders in this country including most recently in Sandy Hook where little children were gunned down. So it’s fair to say phrases like abortion rights, sexual abuse by priests, racism, gay rights, etc., are going to stir up some rather high emotions.
Add to that mix assault-style weapons.
Now of course I am not silly enough to think that Sheriff Welsh would put the county residents in peril by carelessly condoning the raffling off of such a weapon. In fact, she assured reporter Michael Rellahan that winners of the guns will have to submit themselves to a federal background check before the weapons will be legally transferred to them.
“I can understand that there may be people who are concerned,” Welsh said. “But you need to understand two things – this is a legal weapon, and the individual (who wins it) has to undergo a background check.”
As the elected official responsible for overseeing the issuance of gun permits in the county, Welsh said she is an ardent supporter not only of gun safety, but also of responsible gun ownership.
“I am very diligent in assuring that anyone who has a license to carry (a concealed gun) is a responsible citizen,” she said. “It certainly is not my intention to be insensitive.”
However, the e-mails have been flying around since it became widely known about the raffle.
“I find the whole thing shocking,” Stephanie Marksman of West Chester told Michael Rellahan. Marksman said she was alerted to the gun raffle through an e-mail from a friend late last week. “I just think the whole thing is irresponsible, and in light of everything that has been happening recently I find it appalling.”
Terry Heyman, a West Whiteland mother and former prosecutor in the County District attorney’s Office, echoed her sentiments.
“I think that gun violence is the biggest threat to the public safety that we face today, and it is irresponsible to throw another gun into the mix,” Heyman said on Monday. “This seems insensitive coming from a law enforcement agency, and it also seems unnecessary. To think that an agency charged with protecting the public is auctioning off an assault weapon is just crazy.”
Sheriff Welsh said that the gun raffle had drawn considerable interest from law enforcement officers, members of the deputies’ association, and local sporting associations. It was recently advertised by the South Chester County Sportsman’s Association, for example. “There would have not been as much interest in the raffle if we’d been giving away something else, like a flat-screen television,” she said.
The item that drew most strenuous complaints was the Colt AR-15. Some of those interviewed by the Daily Local News on Monday noted that it was a model very similar to the weapon used in the mass shooting of children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. The gun was originally manufactured for use by the U.S. Army, similar to the M-16 rifle.
West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta was somewhat more receptive to the raffle, or at least the way it is being organized, according to Rellahan’s report.
“While this is not the way I would choose to raise money for a government agency, I applaud the sheriff’s office for ensuring that the winners of the AR-15 and the (other gun) undergo background checks,” she said in an e-mail in response to questions from the Daily Local News.
The sheriff maintains her position that there’s nothing wrong here.
“It was certainly not our intention to be insensitive,” she again stressed. “However, this is a legal weapon that will be transferred to a law abiding, legal resident.”
In the end I am sure that will be the case. But if perception can be reality sometimes, there seems to be a lot of people that aren’t happy about the raffle and its prizes.
Again, it sure looks to me to be a case of bad, make that really bad timing. As we all continue to move on from these horrific shootings where assault-style weapons were the weapons of choice of “non-law abiding, legal residents,” it seems that maybe it would have been a better idea to either NOT include the AR-15 (and throw in the big-screen TV) or wait a bit before raffling such a weapon off to Joe Public Citizen.
As they say, timing can be everything.
— Andy Hachadorian