GOP raffle raises funds, anti-gun ire

$16,000 is collected for Carroll party amid criticism

Another one is planned

Republicans call it a victory for rights

critics decry event

February 27, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Republican Central Committee drew the winning ticket yesterday in one of its most lucrative fund-raisers ever -- a gun raffle that fueled a fiery debate over gun rights, caused a rift among party leaders and attracted television crews from as far as Norway.

"We wanted to do something that would get people's attention," said Scott Hollenbeck, a committee member. He organized the raffle, he said, to protest what he called extreme gun control proposals by Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. "We didn't realize how much attention this would bring," he said.

About 250 people were on hand when a 66-year-old Carroll woman, who was not in attendance, was proclaimed the grand-prize winner. She opted for the handgun and shooting classes over the alternative first prize of $500.

"These people who are so against guns, if some of them would have had guns, the crime would have got stopped before it started," said winner Helen Roop, who lives near Keymar. She must pass a background check before getting the pistol.

The raffle organizers were thrilled by the response.

"There's usually no more than 100 people at the breakfast," said Hollenbeck of the group's annual event. "The last time we got a lot of people, it was because the General Assembly was looking at the vehicle emissions inspection program [in 1995]."

Since then, the committee has tried to raise money -- with minimal success -- with a bull roast and direct mail. After the attorney general called for stricter gun control laws, including a ban on private ownership of handguns, the committee decided last November to try a more provocative approach.

It announced it would raffle a 9 mm Beretta handgun, worth about $500, and a copy of "More Guns, Less Crime," written by John R. Lott Jr., a research scholar at Yale Law School. Lott was the keynote speaker at yesterday's breakfast.

The raffle raised about $16,000 for the local Republican Party.

Contestants began arriving for the drawing shortly before 7 a.m., an hour before the breakfast. Groups of six or seven gathered around folding tables, devoured scrambled eggs, hash browns and sausage, and tried to judge their odds of winning the grand prize.

The committee sold about 3,200 tickets at $5 each -- six times as many as it anticipated -- so the odds of winning were fair at best. No one seemed to mind yesterday.

Committee members circulated through the room selling last-minute raffle tickets as the county's elected officials declared their support for the Second Amendment.

"We're not going to let anyone shame us into anything," said state Sen. Larry E. Haines, chairman of the county delegation in Annapolis. "I think what we've done here is very, very honorable. I think it's been handled in a good way and above board."

In his remarks, Haines quoted Scripture and gave thanks to God. Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson and Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale also addressed the crowd.

As the contestants sipped coffee inside the Wilhelm Ltd. Caterers hall in Westminster, a handful of protesters stood outside in the fog.

Southbound motorists on busy Route 140 caught a quick glimpse of their signs: "Support Senate Bill 341" and "God Bless the Republicans." Photos of two teen-agers who were killed by handguns also were on display.

"I think they need a little help from God," said John Price, 38, as he held up his handmade sign blessing the Republicans. "There's something seriously wrong with what they're doing. Our children are dying every day because of handguns."

His 13-year-old son, John Joseph Price, was fatally shot in August 1998 while visiting friends in White Marsh. The 9-year-old boy who fired the gun was not charged.

"We have to get handguns off the street," said Fran Block, 46, of Reisterstown. Her son, 18-year-old Aaron David Goodrich, was one of three people killed at a Starbucks coffee shop in Washington in July 1997.

The Carroll event prompted a Maryland Democratic senator to sponsor a bill to outlaw such raffles. The fund-raiser also drew criticism from some of the state's Republican leaders, including two-time gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey and U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

"I think the handgun raffle was inappropriate," said Curran in a telephone interview yesterday. "The committee, instead of promoting handguns, should be working with us and the state police and their own law enforcement officials to reduce handgun violence."

Betty L. Smith, former vice chairwoman of the county central committee, voiced similar thoughts when she resigned from the organization last month. She called the raffle "insensitive and irresponsible."

Despite such criticism, committee chairman W. David Blair said yesterday's fund-raiser was the group's "first annual gun raffle."

Added Hollenbeck, organizer of the event, "We'll probably hold another one some time after the presidential election, but before the gubernatorial election" in 2002.

Why the delay?

"You can't keep milking the same people time and again," Hollenbeck said.

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