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N.H. Police Chiefs Raffle Off Guns to Benefit Youth Program

In recent weeks, debate about whether to restrict citizens’ access to firearms, especially semi-automatic weapons commonly used in mass shootings, has raged across the country.

In New Hampshire, at least one organization is hoping to gain from the sale of such weapons.

Gun manufacturers? Nope.

Police chiefs.

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police is planning to give away 31 firearms, including several semi-automatic weapons, in a raffle in May to raise money for a youth training academy.

The association is selling 1,000 tickets for $30 a piece to anyone 18 years or older hoping to win “some of today’s most popular NH made sporting firearms.”

One winner will be drawn every day in May at Rody’s Gun Shop in Newport, which will give away a range of single-shot rifles, pistols and military variety-style semi-automatic rifles.

“It’s amazing they can be so insensitive, when this country is trying to grapple with (Newtown) and trying to prevent it,” state Rep. Sharon Nordgren, D- Hanover, said in an interview. “You would hope there would be some sensitivity of what the country is going through, whether they agree on gun control or not.”

Rody’s Gun Shop, along with gun manufacturers Sturm, Ruger, of Newport, and Sig Sauer Inc., which has its U.S. headquarters in Exeter, N.H., are partners in the event. All the guns offered in the raffle are from one of those two makers. None of the businesses responded to requests for comment yesterday.

The association started selling tickets last month and has nearly sold out, said Washington Police Chief Steven Marshall, who runs the New Hampshire Police Cadet Training Academy, a live-in, week long program that draws roughly 100 youths every year and teaches participants an array of skills.

While he understood some gun control advocates may be uncomfortable with the raffle, Marshall said that the association is following the law and raising money for a good cause. The raffle was organized before the Dec 14. shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., left 26 victims dead, Marshall said.

“This all started before Connecticut happened,” Marshall said. “I’m sure all people aren’t in agreement. There’s people on both sides of the issue. As long as you respect my position, I respect your position.”

But some police chiefs, including Claremont Police Chief Alex Scott and Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone, said yesterday that they were uncomfortable with law enforcement raising money by raffling weapons to the public. (Neither chief was aware of the raffle before they were contacted yesterday.)

“Obviously, the timing is all wrong, but regardless of all that, even prior to Newtown, I would not have supported the chief’s association being involved in a raffle of firearms even though they are entirely legal,” said Giaccone, who was not speaking on behalf of the organization. “It obviously sends the wrong message.”

Raffle winners must pass background checks before receiving their firearm, and are subject to all relevant state and federal laws, the association says.

New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police President Paul Donovan, the Salem police chief, did not respond to messages seeking comment yesterday.

Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate, a vice president in the organization, said that many of the ticket buyers are law enforcement professionals. In previous years, the association has relied on phone call campaigns to raise money. But the outside companies that handled those efforts took a big chunk of the profits, officials said yesterday, and many citizens complained about repeated phone calls.

“This was done before the Newtown incident and I’m not sure, given all the attention on guns, if we would have done the same thing or shied away from it. It’s a hypothetical,” Crate said. “Our cadet program is a really good program and we will continue to support that because if the benefit it gives our teenagers. At the time, it didn’t seem like a bad idea at all — we deal with guns all the time. I can assure (people) that the person has to go through all the checks. We’re not going to be just handing out guns.”

The prizes include all manner of types of firearms, from the Ruger SR semi-automatic rifle, which has a 30 round capacity and offers “rugged reliability,” to the Sig Sauer Lady pistol, which weighs 15 ounces and features “scroll engraving with gold flower inlay, and rosewood grips.”

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police had more than $565,000 in assets as of June 2011, according to federal tax records, and had generated more than $110,000 in revenue in the previous year.

While the chiefs association is using firearms to raise money, the organization has used its clout in Concord to lobby for laws to restrict gun use, not always successively. In recent years, the chiefs association opposed the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law which allows people who believed they have been threatened to use deadly force in public places, and opposed a push to eliminate a permitting procedure for residents to carry concealed weapons.

But in a list of raffle rules, the chiefs says they are not liable for what happens with the guns once they give them away.

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.

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