School gun raffles are a thing, and it doesn’t look like they’re going away

Tickets to an earlier gun event in Houston, Texas. (Photo: Getty Images)

On the afternoon of Feb. 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire in a Florida high school, killing 17 students and faculty members. It’s neither the first incidence of gun violence in 2018, nor is likely it will be the last. It seems to be a far too common occurrence today. What also seems to be common is an admiration for the model of weapon the shooter used to murder or maim dozens of people: the AR-15, which the NRA touts as “America’s most popular rifle.” In fact, the weapon is so popular it’s being used as a tantalizing promotion item for everything from baseball teams of 8- and 9-year-old children to high school basketball teams to congressional candidates.

A baseball team of third-graders in Neosho, Mo., for one example, is raffling off an AR-15 to raise funds. The rifle was supplied by the parent of one of the team members who owns a gun sales business. Addressing the backlash the team’s fund-raising effort drew, coach Levi Patterson said that “gun raffles have been going on for years. Evil has and will always exist. Our hearts break for those involved, and we do not take that lightly. …” Patterson also told the Kansas City Star newspaper that donations for the team actually increased — with some coming as far away as Colorado — in response to criticism of the fundraiser.

Not far from the children’s raffle, a Republican in Kansas is also taking advantage of the AR-15’s popularity to give away a weapon to promote his political campaign for Congress in the state’s second district. Just one day before the deadly shooting in Florida, Tyler Tannahill, a former Marine, excitedly posted on his social media about the AR-15 drawing. Following the shooting, the political hopeful seemed to double down on his promotion in spite of  — or perhaps because of — vocal criticism that telling the contest “isn’t helping” and is “tone deaf.” At the time of this reporting, the AR-15 giveaway has more than 4,000 entries and remains in a top promotional spot on his website.

One doesn’t need to look far for other examples across the country, including a baseball team in McDonough, Ga.:

A private school in Pensacola, Fla., some 600 miles from Parkland, is also giving away an AR-15 as part of a golf-putting competition.

While these promotional efforts with weapons are certainly not a new phenomenon, they are drawing new attention in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting. Critics new energy in condemning the nation’s typical response to a persistent plague of what seems to domestic terrorism from its gun wielders. The students and community victimized by last week’s shooting have staged protests and proclaimed that they have little interest in “thoughts and prayers,” the all-too common response of those who actually have power and influence to affect change in America’s distinct culture of violence.

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