NEWPORT, N.H. When the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police was looking to raise money for an annual cadet training program, it sold raffle tickets for $30 apiece. The drawing was scheduled for May, but by Jan. 12 all 1,000 tickets had been sold.
The prize: 31 guns, with a new winner drawn each day of the month.
The fundraiser, sponsored by the association in partnership with two New Hampshire gun-makers, Sig Sauer and Sturm, Ruger & Co., has prompted a chorus of protests from lawmakers and gun control advocates questioning why the police are giving away guns, even in the name of a good cause.
Some in law enforcement also have raised questions. When Chief Nicholas Giaccone of Hanover pulled up information about the raffle on the Internet, he said, he was flabbergasted.
"I looked at the first weapon and Googled that one," said Giaccone, who recalled using an expletive when he pulled up information about the Ruger SR-556C, a semi-automatic weapon. "It's an assault rifle."
In a letter to the editor of the Eagle-Tribune, which covers southern New Hampshire, Richard O'Shaughnessy of Salem wrote, "People who should know better are adding to the glorification of the gun culture in this state."
And referring to the shootings last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, state Rep. Sharon Nordgren, D-Hanover, said, "They're just the same kind that were used in Newtown."
The Ruger that caught Giaccone's attention is an AR-15-style rifle, which is the most popular style of gun in the United States, according to dealers, and was the type used by Adam Lanza to kill 20 children and six adults at the elementary school.
Another gun in the raffle, the Sig Sauer P226 handgun, was also carried by Lanza, according to the Connecticut State Police.
"It's just ironic that that would be their choice of the kind of gun that they're raffling," Nordgren said.
Organizers of the raffle are standing firm.
In a statement released this month, Chief Paul Donovan of Salem, the president of the association, defended the fundraiser, saying that all winners would be required to meet all applicable rules for gun ownership.
"While this raffle falls on the heels of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., 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."
The proceeds from the raffle go toward a cadet program involving participants ages 14 to 20 who are given instructions in various kinds of police skills and procedures. Some of them go on to pursue careers in law enforcement.
The guns will be distributed through another raffle partner, Rody's Gun Shop, a windowless outpost in Newport, a town that comes to life when employees of Ruger, which is one of its main employers, leave work for the day.
"Around here, most people are into guns," said Michael Gaffney, an employee of a nearby hardware store who won a rifle in a raffle years ago. "You get a chance to win a free gun! It's like any raffle, very much akin to trailer raffles, snowmobile raffles or turkey raffles."
Gun raffles are business as usual in New Hampshire and in many other parts of the country frequently used by hunting clubs and sometimes by athletics booster clubs to raise money and anchor galas.
"We host raffles like this all the time," said Richard Olson, the president of the New Hampshire Wildlife Federation and the Londonderry Fish and Game Club. "Anybody that's speaking up is using the Newtown massacre as a pretext to poke at the issue negatively."