GOP split on gun widens

Carroll County group gets national support for raffle of weapon

Congressmen weigh in

Woman's resignation from party committee emphasizes dispute

January 12, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote and Mary Gail Hare | Brenda J. Buote and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Even as gun enthusiasts from across the nation buy tickets to a Carroll County political fund-raiser raffling a 9 mm pistol, Maryland Republicans remain divided over the Feb. 26 event, which prompted the resignation of a county GOP leader this week.

"It's not good politics," 2nd District Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee's planned fund-raiser. "At a time when we should be debating the extreme initiatives proposed by State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., all anyone is talking about is this raffle."

In November, Curran called for stricter gun control laws, including a ban on the private ownership of handguns, a proposal Gov. Parris N. Glendening has called "unrealistic and unpassable."

Sixth District Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett praised the local GOP group for refusing to back down despite criticism of the raffle.

"In Carroll County, the gun raffle is a very legitimate fund-raising activity," said Bartlett. "Maybe in other parts of the state, this would be frowned upon, but this is a county that can't raise money with fancy dinners." Bartlett said the raffle was proposed in the fall in direct response to Curran's gun control proposal, which he labeled "a leftist legislative proposal."

The local committee is selling $5 tickets for a chance to win a Beretta 9 mm pistol and a copy of "More Guns, Less Crime," a book by University of Chicago Professor John Lott, who argues that crime could be reduced if more citizens carried guns.

Response to the raffle has been overwhelming, organizers say. The committee had planned to print 500 tickets, but requested 3,500 more to meet growing demand from places as far away as California, said committee member Scott Hollenbeck. The raffle also has caught the attention of Republican Party leaders in Kentucky and Missouri, who are interested in holding gun raffles.

But debate over the raffle was reignited this week by the sudden resignation from the county central committee of Betty L. Smith, former vice chairwoman, who called the raffle "insensitive and irresponsible" and said it sends a message that "it is OK for mothers and fathers to sell handgun tickets, thus putting another handgun on the streets."

`Right to bear arms'

W. David Blair, Republican Central Committee chairman, said he is not concerned with public disapproval of the raffle.

"We are not trying to be divisive," Blair said. "The Republican Party has believed in this all along. We are receiving support from all across the country. We are saying that we believe in the right to bear arms, and we are showing it."

Blair compared the gun raffle to selling chances on a basket filled with liquor. He took exception to Smith's statement that the raffle has the party selling guns in the streets, stressing that the transaction will be handled by a Hampstead gun dealer in accordance with federal firearms laws.

Donald R. Jansiewicz, political science instructor at Carroll Community College, warned that the raffle could alienate female voters and women with families who the local Republican Party has been trying to attract.

"In effect, this raffle is placing real strains within the Republican Party locally and has widespread implications statewide," he said. "This is a controversy that could drive a wedge through the party. In fact, you have people in those subdivisions scratching their heads and wondering what the Republicans are doing."

`It has no class'

Virginia Wolf, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, said she was offended by the assertion that the fund-raiser promotes constitutional rights.

"This isn't about the Second Amendment," said Wolf, whose husband, state police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf, was shot and killed in the line of duty 10 years ago. "We all know it's legal. We all know they can have this raffle if they want to. By having this fund-raiser, what they're saying is `We don't care if this is inappropriate or makes you feel bad. We can do it, and this is how we're raising money for our party.' It has no class."

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