Raffle of gun leads GOP official to quit

Vice chairwoman says she `cannot live' with committee fund-raiser

Sales `snowballing'

January 11, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The vice chairwoman of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee has resigned, noting the party's embattled decision to raffle a 9 mm handgun as a fund-raiser.

Vice Chairwoman Betty L. Smith expects to issue a news release today, noting the committee's plans for "selling a gun on the streets" as her reason for resigning from the nine-member committee. She has delivered her resignation to W. David Blair, committee chairman.

"This is all over the gun raffle issue," said Smith, who has served on the committee for nearly four years. "I cannot live with that decision. I am resigning on moral principles. As a mother of five, I cannot tell my children that I have had a part in raffling a gun."

The raffle has come under fire from state Republican leaders, including Ellen R. Sauerbrey, former delegate and two-time candidate for governor.

The committee, which coordinates fund-raising activities and voter registration, turned to the raffle of a Beretta 9 mm handgun when other events failed to make money. Last fall, a bull roast lost $300 and left the party with no money for a direct-mail campaign.

Smith, who opposed the idea from its inception, said the decision puts her "miles apart philosophically, socially and politically" from the committee.

"This is the party that constantly preaches family values, but what about a family's quality of life?" she said. "Handguns are abused every day in this country. Is it not immoral to raffle one nationwide?"

Smith was appointed to fill a committee vacancy in 1997. A year later, she was elected to the panel by nearly 8,000 votes. She had failed at a run for county commissioner the same year.

In a letter dated Jan. 5 to Blair, she detailed her reasons.

"She disagreed with our decision to proceed with the gun raffle," said Blair, who added the search for a replacement will take about a month. "I regret that she has made this decision. She did work on many committees to help promote our activities, but I have to respect her decision."

Del. Carmen Amedori, a Westminster Republican, said she has received calls from across the nation, praising the party "for standing up on the Second Amendment," which guarantees the right to bear arms. She advised prospective applicants to be mindful of the party's stance.

"You take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States," she said. "If you can't uphold the Constitution, do not apply."

Smith said she is not against the Second Amendment, "but I am against gun money helping to elect public officials."

Response to the raffle has been overwhelming, organizers say. The committee had planned to print 500 tickets to be sold at $5 apiece, but requested 3,500 more to meet the growing demand for tickets from across the country, including several from as far as California.

"It kept snowballing," said committee member Scott Hollenbeck. "It took off and kept going and going and going."

The raffle has caught the attention of Republican Party leaders in Kentucky and Missouri interested in holding gun raffles, Hollenbeck said.

"I've gotten positive feedback," he said. "Everybody says the Republican Party is finally standing up for what they believe in and has started to show some courage."

Hollenbeck also has heard from several people who objected to the raffle, including Smith, who asked members of the central committee in November to reconsider the raffle. Still, Smith's departure was a surprise, Hollenbeck said.

"It's unfortunate that Betty Smith has chosen to resign," he said. "I had hoped she would have stayed on."

The raffle will be held Feb. 26 at Wilhelm Ltd. Caterers in Westminster. John Lott, a University of Chicago law professor and author of "More Guns Less Crime," has volunteered to draw the winning ticket, said Amedori. The raffle winner, who will have the option of a gun or $500, would be subjected to a criminal background check.

"That does nothing to calm my fears," said Smith. "There are murders committed every day by people with no criminal background."

Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Manchester Republican, has worked with Smith on historical preservation efforts in Uniontown, where Smith resides.

"You always hate to see someone resign from a party position over a dispute," Getty said. "Serving on the central committee is a very difficult job. You don't get a lot of recognition for the work you do."

Sun staff writers John Murphy and Brenda J. Buote contributed to this article.

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