Republican official wants gun raffle halted

Vice chairwoman will ask that central committee reconsider fund-raiser

November 16, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Some Carroll County Republicans don't think raffling a gun is a worthy fund-raiser, and a high-ranking party official plans to ask her fellow members to rescind last month's vote to raise money by raffling a 9 mm pistol.

Betty L. Smith, vice chairwoman of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, said the committee's decision to raffle a gun is one that doesn't represent all the constituents who elected the nine members.

"Most of the people I have talked to do not agree with this," said Smith, of Uniontown. "As a public official, you represent all your constituents."

While Smith plans to ask the committee to reconsider at a meeting Thursday, the agenda calls for members to write the wording for the tickets -- tickets that would have been hot sellers by now if they were printed, said chairman Robert Wolfing of Mount Airy.

"I have not had one negative call," Wolfing said.

He's had "tons" of positive comments, he said. He said requests for tickets have been pouring in -- including from a member of a local television news crew covering the controversy.

The flap has gone beyond Carroll County. Several prominent Republicans, including former gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey and Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., have criticized the idea.

Smith said she fully supports the Second Amendment and the right of U.S. citizens to bear arms, but thinks a pistol that can be used as a concealed weapon is an inappropriate item for a political party to raffle.

"The timing couldn't be worse," Smith said. "You have the Columbine [High School shootings], the shooting up here in Uniontown and violence on the rise."

Last week, police were involved in a four-hour standoff with a Uniontown man, Ernest L. Armstrong, who allegedly shot his wife and himself with a rifle before police entered his home and arrested him.

Smith said she is not opposed to gun clubs or other groups raffling firearms, but that a political party that represents a broader constituency shouldn't do it.

Smith was unable to attend the meeting last month, at which members voted to raffle the gun, because of an illness in her family. She learned of the proposal during a phone call with Wolfing before the meeting.

"I was astounded," Smith said of her reaction when Wolfing told her the plans for the meeting.

"I said, `What did you say?' I couldn't make a proxy vote, because we don't have proxy votes, but I told him if my name is brought up," She did not support this, Smith said.

Wolfing said the idea for the gun raffle was raised after state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. called last month for stricter gun-control laws, including a ban on handguns.

He said that angered several Carroll Republicans, who felt Curran's attempt would violate the Second Amendment.

As for the appropriateness of the raffle, Wolfing said that raising money is what central committees of both parties do -- it costs a lot of money to run a campaign, and they raise dollars to contribute to their candidates.

The gun raffle is being postponed until after the holidays, he said, because people have told him the season is a bad one for such a campaign.

"A lot of people have called it insensitive. Isn't it insensitive to raffle off `baskets of cheer?' " asked Wolfing, noting that alcohol in such gift baskets can lead to a drunken driving accident.

Wolfing said the winner will have the option of declining a gun and taking the cash equivalent, about $500. If that is the case, no gun will be bought to award as a prize.

The winner of the gun would have to submit to a background check and follow all state and federal laws regulating the purchase of a gun, Wolfing said.

The committee will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Days Inn in Westminster.

Wolfing said that while it will open with a public session, the actions will be taken in a session closed to the press and general public, although Republicans will be allowed in.

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