Gun raffles for good causes are a ubiquitous part of life in a small town or rural area for many of us, but one Virginia newspaper is trying to gin up controversy over the common practice. The News-Leader in the Shenandoah Valley community of Staunton has published a lengthy story about the number of Virginia fire departments, many of them staffed and run by volunteers, who’ve utilized gun raffles to generate much needed funds for their local first responders. While the paper failed to document any actual problems with the raffles, they found no shortage of gun control activists and anti-gunners eager to condemn the activities.
Andrew Goddard is the legislative director for the Virginia Center for Public Safety. He’s all for selling spaghetti and pancakes and even putting money into boots to help the fire departments. Guns? Not so much.
“There are so many valuable things that you can raffle away to raise money without the side effect of potential death,” he said.
On its website, the Verona Volunteer Fire Department writes that part of its mission “is to minimize the loss of life and property resulting from fires, medical emergencies, environmental and other disasters.”
That seems, at least to Goddard, a direct contrast to raffling off guns.
“For heaven’s sake, they’re trying to save lives,” Goddard said. “Why are you trying to put a weapon of death into the hands of somebody who maybe doesn’t have one already?”
Verona isn’t the only fire department in Virginia that does this. Stuarts Draft held a raffle in August that included a variety of items ranging from a chainsaw to a gift certificates to a 9mm pistol. In October, the Craigsville Volunteer Fire Department raffled off pistols, shotguns and rifles. And last November the Wilson Volunteer Fire Company in Lyndhurst also held a gun raffle.
A quick search of the internet showed gun raffles at fire departments in other parts of the state, including Grottoes, Luray, Madison, Sperryville and Timberville, in recent years. It’s a safe bet those aren’t all.
And what, exactly, is the problem with that? If the raffles weren’t popular, the departments wouldn’t be doing them. Clearly, there’s support within the local communities for these kinds of fundraisers. It’s the liberal press and the handful of anti-gun activists who take issue with the practice.
Though the News-Leader can’t provide any evidence that the raffles are adding to crime or public safety concerns, and reporter Patrick Hite does acknowledge that anyone winning a gun in a raffle still goes through a background check before taking possession from a local gun store, the paper presents the practice as problematic in and of itself.
Randall Wolf, who lost an election for the 36th District House of Delegates seat this year, organized an anti-gun violence rally in Downtown Staunton during his campaign.
“Unfortunately, in Augusta County, guns and weapons are popular,” said Wolf, who is a former journalist for The News Leader. “Sadly, maybe more popular than being able to win a dinner at a restaurant or win a small vacation getaway. Guns are more popular and sell more tickets.”
Wolf said it’s counterintuitive for a fire and rescue organization to be raffling off weapons. He realizes that the guns being raffled are primarily for hunting, and he’s not anti-hunter. Still, he sees a problem.
“How would you feel if you went to someone’s property that won the gun raffle and had to treat one of their loved ones who was shot and maybe killed?” Wolf said.
Wolf thinks it’s unfortunate that guns are popular in his community. That says it all, doesn’t it? It certainly helps to explain why Wolf didn’t just lose the election to become delegate this year but got his rear end handed to him by Republican Ellen Campbell, who won the seat by 20 points and collected 60 percent of the vote.
Yes, guns are popular in Augusta County (and across most of Virginia as well). Blaming gun owners for violent crime and advocating for gun control, on the other hand, is not. In 2021, for instance, when Virginia Democrats’ failed attempt to ban so-called assault weapons was fresh on the minds of rural voters, Glenn Younkin won a whopping 78 percent of the vote in August, compared to 21 percent for Democrat Terry McAuliffe. In Staunton itself, however, McAuliffe narrowly edged out Youngkin 51-47.
The politics of Staunton are not the same as the surrounding counties, and that holds true for the ideology of the local paper as well. What is completely normal for most residents of Augusta County is cause for alarm for Hite and his editors.
Wolf suggested we could help protect our kids from gun violence “by not encouraging people to buy guns to support our local fire departments and rescue squads.”
The Augusta County School Board voted in July to purchase six weapon detectors for its buildings, and the Board of Supervisors has been trying to find a way to buy even more in an effort to keep guns out of schools.
Down the road about half a mile, a volunteer fire department trying to find a way to make ends meet is putting more guns into the hands of county residents.
School districts in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Detroit have had metal detectors in some school buildings for decades, and none of those cities regularly host gun raffles to benefit their local fire departments. Tying the two together is a real stretch, but it’s even more ridiculous considering the paper labeled Augusta County’s new detectors “security theater” in another opinion piece masquerading as straight news earlier this year.
I’m used to seeing anti-gun bias at the big broadcast networks and the national press, but it’s disappointing to find it in the pages of a small-town publication like the News-Leader. I doubt that this piece is going to put an end to the practice that the anti-gunners find so unacceptable, however. These fire departments may have earned the scorn of gun control activists and local reporters, but as long as the people they serve keep buying tickets for the chance to win a gun or two these raffles aren’t going anywhere.