Gun raffle to benefit high school band sells out despite objections from gun control advocates

When the Bands of America marching band competition kicks off in Orlando, Florida this October, students from the West Harrison High School band in Mississippi will be taking part, and thanks to the generosity (and support for the Second Amendment) from many locals, the kids won’t have to pay for all of their expenses themselves.

A gun raffle held by the band’s booster club has officially sold out of the $100 raffle tickets, and that has some gun control fans in the area steaming, saying it’s “highly inappropriate” for the booster club to use guns as a means to raise money for the students.

“It’s highly inappropriate,” said Tori Bishop, a former Harrison County School District parent and an administrator for a Facebook group called Harrison County Parents for a Safer Return to School. The group has more than 1,500 members.

“In light of the recent school shooting, and the mass shootings we’ve been having going on in this country … it is in extremely poor taste. I am disappointed in the district,” Bishop said.

“I understand that rifles are commonly raffled in this area but there are semi automatics and handguns on this list as well,” said former state Rep. Sonya Williams Barnes, who now works for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “After the tragedy in Uvalde, it seems to me that the organizers should have used better judgment by shutting the raffle down. Even if for no other reason but for respect to those 19 babies and 2 teachers whose lives were lost.”

It seems to me that most folks understand that this raffle has nothing to do with the monstrous actions of the cowardly killer in Uvalde. I mean, the raffle did sell out, after all. It’s not like the organizers were struggling to find people willing to spend $100 for the chance to win a gun, which honestly, in this economic environment, is kind of surprising.

The school district itself also isn’t a part of the raffle, which is being organized by an outside booster group with no official ties to the district. And winners will have to go through a background check before they can pick up their new firearm from the local gun shop that’s sponsoring the raffle as well, though that’s of little importance to the gun control fans who want to see the raffle shut down.

And they may well get their wish. A link to the Facebook page where the guns were being raffled off was disabled when I checked on Friday, and there have been several other gun raffles around the country that have been suspended or pulled in recent weeks after complaints, including a raffle benefitting the Columbia, Missouri Police Officer’s Association, a volunteer fire department in Pennsylvania, and a high school wrestling team in North Carolina.

In fact, the cancellations have become so widespread that even some national media outlets have noticed. NPR ran a story a couple of weeks ago talking about a number of other raffles that were suspended or called off, with some organizers reporting receiving an overwhelming amount of hate and “negative feedback”.

“Due to some bad publicity, and negative feedback from other citizens I am going to seize the current sportsman package raffle. Everyone will be refunded for their purchases,” a post on the Aliquippa Police K9 Facebook page announced last Thursday, two days after the shooting at the primary school in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two teachers. Later that day came a follow-up post noting “the hate mail that’s flowing in right now because of a overly sensitive society.”

As in Rocky Run, Aliquippa Police Chief John Lane concedes it was “bad timing” for the fundraiser. The proceeds were to go to the widow of Lane’s predecessor, who died in 2020.

He says that in the past, a sergeant with the K9 unit has raffled other things besides guns. “He’s done cigars; he’s done lawn furniture. But [the gun raffle] makes the most money.”

Lane says that despite the decision to call the raffle off, the community reaction to it in the days after the Uvalde shootings was running about 70-30 in favor of holding it anyway. “I understand why some people find it wrong,” he says. “But it goes both ways.”

Yes, but the loudest voices tend to win out at a time like this, which is why we’re seeing so many of these raffles are being called off right now. And with opponents of the raffles declaring that anyone who supports them must not care about the victims in Uvalde, or care more about guns than kids, a lot of the folks who don’t think the raffle should be cancelled may be cowed into silence simply because they don’t want that hate directed their way. It’s the heckler’s veto at work, and the ones who are most harmed are those who stood to benefit from the raffle’s success; high school marching bands, fire departments, and even the widow of a Pennsylvania police chief.