Michael P. Corbett, a single father raising three children in Sudbury, Mass., Richard Facemyer, a chemist living in Columbia, Mo., and Randy D. Hix, a computer technician from Marietta, Ga., don't know each other, but they have a few things in common.
They have never set foot in Carroll County and would be hard pressed to find it on a map.
But when these gun rights advocates heard about the furor sparked by a Carroll County Republican group's handgun raffle, they reached for their checkbooks and asked: How can I get my hands on a chance?
"Even though they are several hundred miles away, I wanted to let them know that they have my support," says Corbett, 33, who read about the raffle in the Boston Globe. He immediately sent away for two chances.
And like Facemyer, who ponied up $5 for one ticket, they don't care if they win.
"I didn't buy it with any expectations," said Facemyer, 38. "I thought the raffle was a pretty gutsy statement so close to Washington, where so many people are anti-Second Amendment."
Nationwide, supporters of the right to bear arms are rallying behind the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, which is selling the tickets for a chance to win a Beretta 9 mm pistol and a copy of "More Guns, Less Crime," by University of Chicago Professor John Lott, who argues that crime could be reduced if more citizens carried guns.
The drawing for the gun and book will be held at the county GOP legislative breakfast Feb. 26. Lott will draw the winning ticket.
Since the first ticket was sold in November, the raffle has touched off a fierce debate over gun rights, created a rift in the local Republican Party and prompted one Maryland lawmaker to sponsor a bill that would ban gun raffles.
The publicity -- good and bad -- has boosted ticket sales. Organizers initially printed 500 tickets, but when demand increased, they printed an additional 3,500. More than 1,200 tickets have been sold to supporters in Maryland and elsewhere.
"It was surprising," said W. David Blair, chairman of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee. "We got a call from Oregon. How did they hear about it? I don't know."
It could have been from one of the dozens of newspapers that ran articles about the raffle or one of the Web sites that held forums on the debate.
FreeRepublic.com, a conservative news forum based in California, received more than 90 e-mail responses to a story posted on the raffle -- many inquiring where they could buy a $5 chance.
"Where can we sign up?" asked one reader.
"GO CARROLL COUNTY GO!!!" cheered another.
Before Christmas, one supporter wrote: "Just sent off a `thank you' note and a check for two tickets for stocking stuffers for my husband."
"Nothing like raffling off something `good' for a change. I'm sick of buying tickets for table flower arrangements and the like," added another gun rights advocate.
Said Blair: "It's been a pleasant surprise to see how strong the support is, and a surprise for people who think that the gun issue is just a few people. It is not."
The out-of-state reaction has been warmer than the in-state response.
Since the first tickets were sold, the raffle has drawn criticism from state GOP leaders and led to the resignation of the central committee's vice chairwoman, Betty L. Smith. She called the raffle "insensitive and irresponsible."
The debate led Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore County, to introduce legislation that would prohibit offering a handgun as a prize in a raffle.
Out-of-state gun rights advocates say bills such as Hoffman's -- combined with state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.'s call for stricter gun control laws, such as a ban on the private ownership of handguns -- were enough to get them to support Carroll County Republicans.
"There has been nationwide press coverage of the anti-gun bills in Maryland. People know how bad Maryland is for gun owners," said Billie J. Grey, 47, a law librarian in Cincinnati who grew up in Worcester County.
Grey, a frequent entrant in gun raffles that raise money for causes as diverse as the Boy Scouts and gun rights, bought four tickets from the Carroll Republicans.
For others, such as Hix, the Georgia computer technician and collector of military firearms, it was the first time entering a gun raffle.
"I believe grass-roots efforts are the only avenues open to self-defense advocates," said Hix, 39, who learned about the issue on the Web site GunsSaveLives.org.
Message to Carroll GOP
Corbett encouraged his co-workers at an electronics company in Marlborough, Mass., to buy tickets and said many of them did. He wanted to let Carroll County Republicans know they were not alone, he said.
"I believe to be a gun owner these days, you not only have to be educated about gun ownership and safety, you have to be politically active to ensure you will be able to have guns in the future," he said.
"I was very impressed that they had the courage to go ahead and do this," Corbett said, noting that his local gun club sticks to traditional turkey shoots to raise money.
A gun raffle in Massachusetts? Probably not, he said.
"As much as I would like to see it," Corbett said, "I think here the organization would suffer a lot of grief."