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N.H. Police Ignore Pleas to Drop Gun Raffle

The New Hampshire Association of Police Chiefs is not backing down from its plan to raffle 31 firearms, including some semi-automatic weapons, during a May fundraising event in Newport, despite criticism it has received in recent days.

In an open letter posted on the association’s website this week, Executive Director Paul Donovan, stressing that the event is “legal,” said his group has coordinated with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and warned entrants that they will have to follow all laws governing gun ownership.

“While this raffle falls on the heels of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police extends their deepest sympathies to the families and first responders,” wrote Donovan, the police chief of Salem. “New Hampshire Chiefs of Police feel the issues with these tragic shootings are ones that are contrary to lawful and responsible gun ownership. We believe in and support the Second Amendment, and encourage education in the area of firearms safety.”

The raffle, first reported last week in the Valley News, has generated widespread media coverage in New England and drawn the criticism from some police, lawmakers and gun control activists.

Yesterday, New England Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence Director Cathie Whittenburg noted that some of the guns that New Hampshire’s police are giving away essentially are identical to weapons issued to the military, save for a switch that allows soldiers’ guns to fire automatically, which is illegal for domestic use.

“I don’t understand why they’re raffling off assault weapons,” Whittenburg said. “If they were raffling off hunting rifles that would be fine, but why do they need assault weapons that are designed for the battlefield? The only difference in the gun they are going to raffle off on day one (a Ruger SR 556 assault rifle) and the weapons our soldiers are using in Afghanistan, is a little switch.”

The police chief 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 single-shot rifles, pistols and military-style assault weapons from gun manufacturers Sturm, Ruger & Co., of Newport, and Sig Sauer Inc., of Exeter, N.H.

The proceeds will help fund 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.

Donovan has not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Valley News to discuss the raffle.

Some police chiefs have voiced opposition to the raffle.

In 2004, Whittenburg said, 28 New Hampshire police chiefs joined with more than 1,000 of their counterparts across the country and signed a petition urging Congress to renew a national assault weapons ban, which was allowed to lapse, to the dismay of gun control advocates.

The local controversy about the raffle comes as the country continues to debate gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shooting. Yesterday, President Obama asked lawmakers to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines for civilian use and to require background checks for all gun buyers.

And today, groups across the country are planning to march on state capitols in support of gun rights. Rallies in Montpelier and Concord are scheduled at 12 p.m.

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

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Newport — 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 …