More than 500 people have signed a petition against the raffle of an AR-15 that will be held at the Carroll County Agricultural Center on Saturday, expressing concern the event comes just days after a shooter entered a Nashville school with the same assault-style rifle and killed six people.
The event — billed online as a Sportsman’s Bonanza Drawing and Dinner — will raffle off 21 guns, including the AR-15, at the Westminster venue, as well as cash prizes and several gun safes, according to an event description. It will also have food and drinks as well as games, according to a Facebook post.
When Melissa Shaffer heard about the event earlier this week, she was shocked. The country was still grieving for the three children and three adults that had been killed at the Covenant School in Nashville on Monday, she thought. Flags had been lowered at half-staff across the country.
“We share this country with them,” Shaffer said. “And this feels inappropriate during grief.”
Shaffer also could not understand why an AR-15 would be raffled off at the event. She can accept that in Carroll County, many people hunt, an activity that involves guns.
“But I don’t see the AR-15 as a hunting [gun],” said Shaffer, who has lived in Carroll County for the last 22 years. “I don’t understand the purpose of it.”
Shaffer left messages with the Carroll County Agricultural Center. She wrote comments on the organization’s Facebook page. But no one returned her calls, and she said some of her comments have been deleted from the page.
“I don’t know what else to do,” she thought. “But somebody needs to know that there are people who care about this.”
On Thursday, Shaffer put out an online petition. As of 11:15 a.m. Saturday, 521 people have signed on.
“More guns is not the answer. These particular guns were designed for warfare and have no business in the streets. In light of the massacre in Nashville, having this gun raffle at this particular time is beyond bad taste - — it’s dangerous and sets a bad example for our youth,” wrote Marty Hankins, a Carroll County resident since 1972.
Hankins, 75, told The Banner she is not opposed to people owning guns, as long as they are used responsibly and locked up safely. She lives on a farm, where she has a gun to protect from rabid animals.
But, she emphasized, AR-15s are different. And the timing of the event feels like it’s “adding salt to the wound” after the school shooting in Nashville, she said. It seems like those involved have turned a blind eye to what’s happening all over the country, she said, adding that she has four grandchildren who attend public school.
“It could be our children, our grandchildren,” Hankins said. “It just makes me sick to my stomach.”
Brandi Bollinger, a co-owner of Bollinger Gunsmithing & Sales, the Taneytown business that is providing the guns for the raffle, said there’s a “misperception” that the event was organized last-minute in light of the Nashville shooting.
“It was completely coincidental with an absolutely tragic event,” Bollinger said. The list of guns to be raffled at the event was drawn up at least a year ago, she added.
She plans to bring an extra firearm to the event so coordinators can choose to switch out the AR-15 if they see fit.
Bollinger said, though, that some people bought tickets for the event months ago, and are going with the expectation that certain firearms will be there. When putting together raffle lists, the shop tries to provide a range of options, as well as the firearms of clear interest.
“So if people are interested in AR-15s,” she said. “You’re going to see AR-15s on the list.”
When asked why ordinary citizens may need a gun like an AR-15, Bollinger said she’d “defer right back to the Second Amendment,” which “did not discount people’s ability to have firearms like that. It was completely an open-ended book when it said people have the right to protect themselves.”
”I’m not in this industry to get bullied,” she added. “And I’m not in this industry to give up on people’s Second Amendment rights. I’m here to make sure that I’m fighting diligently for them. And that is something I will not back down from.”
Guns aren’t given to the winners the day of a raffle, she said. They have to come into the shop first, where they will be run through a federal background check for long guns like the AR-15, and both a federal and state background check for handguns.
The Carroll County Agricultural Center, a nonprofit with its own board of directors, did not respond to a request for comment. It was not immediately clear who was involved in organizing the gun raffle.
Cheryl Brooks, another long-time resident, questioned why the center would host a gun raffle Saturday after it allowed the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce to hold a Drug and Violence Awareness expo on Thursday.
“I just thought it was insensitive,” she said.