Children in a Missouri town are selling raffle tickets offering an AR-15 assault-style rifle as the prize to raise money for their baseball team. The rifle is the same type of weapon used last week in the Florida school shooting that killed 17 people.
The raffle was launched before the shooting, but Levi Patterson, the coach of the team in Neosho for boys 9 and younger, told The Kansas City Star he plans to continue with the fundraiser.
Patterson said he decided to “turn it into a positive thing” after “getting the hate” in the form of angry Facebook posts after the raffle was first reported.
The weapon was donated as a prize by a team father and co-founder of Neosho gun manufacturer Black Rain Ordnance Inc., which is currently pitching a Spec15 AR pistol on its Facebook page.
“Are you all tone deaf?” a Facebook user asked in a since-deleted post on Patterson’s Facebook page. “AR15 kills seventeen so you raffle a gun for child sports? Lord, people wake the hell up.”
There was also some criticism on Twitter:
Patterson said “our hearts break” for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But he added that gun raffles “have been going on for years. Evil has and will always exist.”
Patterson said none of the children on his team will be forced to sell raffle tickets for the weapon if they’re uncomfortable doing so.
“I just think they have feelings to this specific type of gun [that are] different than people around here do,” he told the Star.
Patterson said supportive donations have been pouring in as well.
Kansas Republican Tyler Tannahill, who is running for a congressional seat, and Missouri GOP U.S. Senate candidate Austin Peterson have also been criticized for each offering an AR-15 giveaway to draw attention to their campaigns, KMOV-TV reported.
Another gun raffle in Michigan has been cancelled, the Detroit Free Press reported. The raffle, which was to raise money for the football team of South Lyon High School, also featured an AR-15.
“Due to the recent tragic events, the South Lyon Football Booster Organization has decided to cancel their second annual Wild Game Dinner. The sensitivity of the issue coupled with the untimely tragedy has led to the decision,” said a statement on the team’s website. “At no point did the Booster club intend to offend those sensitive to the topic of firearms.”