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Monday, February 4, 2013

Hollis will raffle off 30 guns in 30 minutes

Forget 30 guns in 30 days. In the weeks before the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police holds its controversial “A Month of Guns” fundraiser, the Lone Pine Hunters Club in Hollis will raffle off 30 guns in 30 minutes. And no one will complain, officers said.

The controversial police chiefs’ raffle, to feature 30 guns raffled off in the month of May, has come under fire in recent weeks from politicians, gun control advocates and public safety officers alike who argue the fundraiser, which features several military-style rifles, returns weapons to the streets and encourages violence. ...

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Forget 30 guns in 30 days. In the weeks before the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police holds its controversial “A Month of Guns” fundraiser, the Lone Pine Hunters Club in Hollis will raffle off 30 guns in 30 minutes. And no one will complain, officers said.

The controversial police chiefs’ raffle, to feature 30 guns raffled off in the month of May, has come under fire in recent weeks from politicians, gun control advocates and public safety officers alike who argue the fundraiser, which features several military-style rifles, returns weapons to the streets and encourages violence.

“I don’t mean to say what they should or shouldn’t be doing there, but I wouldn’t encourage our chiefs to do it here,” Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said last week.

But, in New Hampshire and around New England, such raffles are commonplace among hunting and outdoors clubs, among other groups, who use the fundraisers frequently to cover their costs and benefit charity organizations.

Last year, the Wildlife Heritage Foundation of New Hampshire, a non-profit group that raises money for state conservation efforts, held a 30 guns in 30 days raffle to benefit the state Fish and Game Department.
In April, the Line Pine Club in Hollis will hold its 30 guns in 30 minutes raffle – several weeks before the police chiefs’ event kicks off, to benefit the police cadet training academy.

“We’re a non-profit organization, so we need to find ways to raise funds,” said Rob Keller, chairman of the Lone Pine Club, which finances annual fishing derby and other events through the raffle.

“These kind of things are all over the place,” added Ray Smith, president of the Horse Pond Fish and Game Club in Nashua, which typically holds two gun raffles a year. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t hold them.”

Officials from the police chiefs organization did not return calls for comment this story. But, according to the association website, the regulations governing the raffle are similar to those employed by the local clubs.

Entrants must be 18 years old and legal U.S. residents. And all winners, who will acquire the guns through Rody’s Gun Shop in Newport, are subject to all state and federal gun regulations, including the same background checks required for traditional purchases.

“There’s no difference whatsoever (between a raffle and a shop sale),” said Richard Olson, president of the N.H. Wildlife Federation and the Londonderry Fish and Game Club, which hosts gun raffles. “The only difference is when you go to the gun shop, you put a (raffle) ticket on the counter instead of money. They still run the check.”

The police chiefs’ raffle does differ from other local fundraisers in two key ways, however, opponents noted.

First, the raffle includes several AR-15s and other military-style weapons similar to those used in December’s shooting in Newtown, Conn. And second, in this case, it’s the police, not private game clubs, who are making them available to the public, said Cathie Whittenburg, a spokeswoman for the New England Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

“We have to recognize these for what they are, civilian versions of military weapons,” Whittenburg said of the military-style rifles included in the raffle. “Why the police are raffling them off, it’s kind of baffling.”

The fundraiser, set to run throughout May, has drawn opposition from around the state and across the country.

Last month, a professional fundraiser from Nottingham, Robert Sprague, offered to raise $30,000 for the cadet academy if the chiefs called off the event. And last week, a former New Hampshire resident, Sheila Evans, now of California, launched a petition against the raffle, seeking 1,000 signatures to match the 1,000 tickets sold.

“Give up the gun giveaway and accept the offer of a buyback of all of the raffle tickets,” Evans wrote on the petition, circulated through MoveOn.org, an online progressive group.

Within the law enforcement community, some authorities have raised questions about the weapons included in the raffle.

Last month, Hanover Police Chief Nicholas Giaccone Jr. told the New York Times some of the weapons included in the raffle left him concerned. He declined to comment for this article.

“I looked at the first weapon (a semi-automatic Ruger SR-556C) and Googled that one,” Giaccone told the Times, saying the weapon left him shocked.

“It’s an assault rifle,” he said.

But, other chiefs argue that, with strong restrictions in place, the raffle is no different than selling through a local gun shop.

“Needles to say, the association has an absolute interest in making sure that any weapon is only in the hands of responsible parties,” Nashua Police Chief John Seusing said last week.

“The agreement was they’d only be raffled off and provided to individuals who could show proof they are legally able to possess these firearms,” added Merrimack Chief Mark Doyle. “Whether people are accessing them through a raffle legally or a gun shop legally doesn’t make a big difference to me.”

Locally, neither the Lone Pine nor Horse Pond clubs include military-style weapons in their raffles, officers said. But, elsewhere in the state, the rifles are featured more frequently in fundraisers, said Olson, president of the Wildlife Federation.

“The nature of sportsmen clubs are changing. It’s not just diehard sportsmen. You have non-sportsmen shooters, as well,” Olson said. “As a result, you have preferences for AR-15s and military-platform. By having semi-automatic rifles, you broaden the appeal of it,” he said.

Still, profits aside, the weapons threaten to come at a larger cost to the community, if they get into the wrong hands, according to Whittenburg, of the New England Coalition to Prevent Violence.

“If it was just hunting rifles, we would have no concern at all. But the fact is, there are several assault rifles included in the raffle,” she said last week. “I don’t quite understand why they chose to go that way. ... These are certainly not the type of weapons (police) want to run into on the street.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Berry on Twitter (Telegraph_JakeB).