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Updated: Police chiefs' rifle raffle riles some, who question if it's appropriate

Union Leader Correspondent

January 15. 2013 3:21PM

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police is taking heat from a Hanover legislator who is calling a “month of firearms” raffle inappropriate in light of gun violence in this country.


Mitch Kopacz, president of the Gun Owners of New Hampshire, which is the National Rifle Association’s state affiliate organization for New Hampshire, said legislators should be concerned with “upholding the Constitution and common sense,” not the raffle.


The “month of firearms” offers raffle ticket buyers a chance each day during May to win a New Hampshire-made sporting firearm; 1,000 tickets went on sale in October. All are sold.


“Sounds like a great idea,” Kopacz said. “I see nothing inappropriate about that, anymore than if there was a horrific drunk-driving accident and they were raffling off a car. Inanimate objects cannot be blamed for bad behavior.”


“I just don’t think it’s appropriate that police chiefs are in the business of arming the public,” said state Rep. Sharon Nordgren, D-Hanover. “It would be a shame if one of those guns ended up in the wrong hands and ended up in a crime. Maybe they should raffle off a snowmobile.”


Although the raffle was planned before the Dec. 14 Newtown, Conn., school shooting, Nordgren said the raffle is insensitive in light of other previous shootings.


“They should be pulling back and trying to not be so up-front,” Nordgren said. “Some of the guns they are raffling off are like the guns used at Newtown.”


House Majority Leader Stephen Shurtleff, D-Penacook, is retired from law enforcement after serving in the U.S. Marshal Service. He said he has heard from a few fellow state representatives concerned about the raffle.


“I have a lot of respect for the New Hampshire Association of Police Chiefs,” he said. “I know the great job they do in keeping our state safe. But I think under the circumstances they should have re-thought raffling off guns. The appropriateness could be questioned.”


Association President Salem Police Chief Paul T. Donovan did not return a phone call Tuesday, but in an open letter released Monday said the association worked with the Attorney General’s Office when planning the raffle. The rules of the raffle require winners to meet all state and federal gun ownership laws.


“While this raffle falls on the heels of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police extends their deepest sympathies to the families and first responders,” Donovan wrote.


“New Hampshire Chiefs of Police feel the issues with these tragic shootings are ones that are contrary to lawful and responsible gun ownership. We believe in and support the Second Amendment, and encourage education in the area of firearms safety.”


Kopacz said as long as the firearms are going to citizens who can qualify as responsible gun owners under state and federal law, there is nothing wrong with the raffle. He said the United States has become a safer society in the past four years since gun ownership has increased. People are more aware of gun violence because of media coverage, he said.


“More people have been killed with hammers in the past year than they were with rifles,” he said. “Perhaps we should ban hammers.”


The raffle is supporting the New Hampshire Police Cadet Training Academy and was put together in partnership with Newport businesses Ruger and Rody’s Gun Club, at which the raffle is taking place, as well as Sig Sauer Academy of Epping.


The Training Academy, held in June, offers up to 100 young people the chance to experience life as a police recruit in training. Washington Police Chief Steven Marshall, who helps run the academy, said the Association of Chiefs of Police has sponsored the academy for 40 years.


“Our program uses a police style or military style recruit academy to help youth ages 14 to 20 to development some innate skills that they already have ... to be successful at whatever career they eventually have,” he said.


Marshall said he would let Donovan speak for association issues.


Hanover Police Chief Nicholas J. Giaccone Jr. said he was not aware of the gun raffle until the recent controversy.


“I cannot speak on behalf of the association,” Giaccone said. “Maybe hindsight is 20/20, but I’m confident that I wouldn’t have agreed with it ... Regardless of Newtown or not.”


Claremont Police Chief Alexander Scott said: “I certainly understand the way it looks, but this was certainly something entered into long before Newtown.”


Scott said he was not present at the meeting at which the raffle was approved. If given the chance, he would have voted against it, he said.


“It’s not something that I would have supported,” Scott said. “Newtown or not Newtown, I’m not a gun person.”


However, Scott said he fully supports the association and its fundraising efforts.

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