Editorial: Firearms Raffle; Chiefs Send the Wrong Message

We note that the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police is among the opponents of bills pending in the New Hampshire Legislature that would legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. According to The Associated Press, the association’s objections include that it might be difficult to control cultivation and distribution of legal marijuana despite the strict regulatory regime the legislation would impose; and that legalizing the drug, even for the purposes of pain relief, might send a message to young people that government approves of its recreational use.

We don’t necessarily subscribe to the chiefs’ objections, but we don’t dismiss them out of hand, either. It’s worth noting, though, that when the same sort of objections have been raised to an event sponsored by the chiefs’ association, they have gotten the brush-off.

In fact, ever since the enterprising Valley News staff writer Mark Davis first broke the story last month that the police chiefs association was sponsoring a gun raffle in May as a fundraiser, any number of critics have stepped forward to point out the obvious: that raffling off firearms, including some semi-automatic assault-style weapons, in the aftermath of the slaughter of children and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is in appallingly bad taste. One of those critics, Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone, was even more perceptive. He told Davis at the time: “Obviously, the timing is all wrong, but regardless of all that, even prior to Newtown, I would not have supported the chiefs association being involved in a raffle of firearms, even though they are entirely legal. It obviously sends the wrong message.”

The association points out that the fundraiser was well under way before the tragedy in Newton and that all 1,000 of the $30 raffle tickets have been sold. The drawing will be in May, when a new winner will be drawn each day of the month. The firearms come from the association’s raffle partners, Sig Sauer and Sturm, Ruger & Co., both New Hampshire manufacturers, and include various types of rifles and pistols, including some classified as assault-style weapons.

According to an open letter from Salem Police Chief Paul T. Donovan, the president of the association, the winners will have to meet all applicable laws for firearm ownership in order to collect their prizes. Moreover, the association believes that “the issues with these tragic shootings (like the one in Newtown) are ones that are contrary to lawful and responsible gun ownership.”

OK, point well taken. But even products obtained lawfully are sometimes diverted to illegal purposes. If not, why would the chiefs be concerned about the difficulties of controlling the cultivation and distribution of legalized medical marijuana? We’d argue that in terms of consequences of the misuse of a legal product, marijuana is relatively benign. And should one of the raffled firearms someday end up being used in a murder, the chiefs association will have a lot of explaining to do. (Although, as Davis pointed out, the contest rules stipulate that the chiefs are not liable for what happens to the guns after they are awarded.)

More than that, when it comes to sending messages, the chiefs could hardly do more damage than by raffling off firearms, including some of a notoriously lethal nature. Some impressionable youngster might even infer that the chiefs’ association was willing to take a chance with the lives of those its members are sworn to protect and serve.