A raffle item at a Cameron Park Fire Department crab feed Saturday night made some attendees so uncomfortable that they left the event.
Firefighters were auctioning off an AR-15 rifle, the type of weapon allegedly used Wednesday by Nikolas Cruz in the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead.
El Dorado Hills resident Allison Merrill and her friends left the crab feed after expressing their concerns about the gun raffle to the organizers, she said.
“When we walked out, the flag was at half-mast in front of the community center and it was just so striking how tone-deaf the whole event was,” she said Sunday. “We walk out and there’s the flag at half-mast for all those kids.”
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The fire department’s annual fundraising event includes a raffle and a silent auction, and donated guns have been up for raffle or bid in past years, officials said. This year’s event included the Faxon Firearms “custom lightweight AR-15 rifle” with tickets priced at $40.
Merrill said she went to the event as a guest of her best friend’s parents, who live in Cameron Park. They were waiting for the dinner to start when they decided to check out the items for auction and raffle.
Many of the other items for raffle were what you would expect from such an event, including wine, spa treatments and dinner gift cards, said Nancy Lugo, the mother of Merrill’s friend.
Lugo said she stopped short when she saw the AR-15 alongside other guns.
“I was deeply disturbed by it,” she said. “Not only the timing of the recent shootings, but also the fact that it’s that easy to get an AR-15.”
After the raffle, the gun was taken to a gun store for the 10-day waiting period and background check required by law, said Scott McLean, deputy chief and spokesman for Cal Fire, which oversees programs that are beneficiaries of the Cameron Park fundraiser. If the winner passes a background check, he or she can then pick it up, McLean said.
Two other semi-automatic guns also were part of this year’s raffle, he said.
“These weapons are not any different than anything you could go into the gun store and buy,” McLean said. He said the event was planned before the recent Florida shooting rampage and had no opinion on whether it was appropriate to raffle off an AR-15 so soon after it.
Merrill said she asked the firefighters at the table about the choice of gun for raffle and was “brushed off.”
“I was kind of in shock and I walked away,” she said. Other people at her table agreed with her concern and one woman suggested Merrill express her opinion to one of the chiefs with the Cameron Park Fire Department.
Merrill said the person she spoke with was very polite and acknowledged that the display could be insensitive. When Lugo told him she and her three companions were leaving, he refunded their tickets.
McLean said the crab feed has raffled off guns for the past eight years and that events of this type are not uncommon in the Cameron Park area.
Margaret Mohr, a board member with the Cameron Park Community Services District, which oversees the fire department, said in an email that she believes the gun raffle was “insensitive” and that she has requested the board deal with the issue immediately.
Ellie Wooten, another board member, said she attended the crab feed and was aware of the AR-15 raffle but didn’t have an opinion on it.
“I really didn’t think too much about it,” Wooten said. “I'm a life member of the NRA (National Rifle Association). I know what is bringing it all on, the school shooting in Florida. Some people relate to that.”
The AR-15 is the semi-automatic, civilian counterpart to the military’s M-16 automatic rifle. The shooter must pull the trigger to fire each shot, but an internal spring reduces the recoil, making the gun easier to shoot and more accurate.
The NRA on its website describes the AR-15-type rifle as the most popular rifle in America, the “everyman’s rifle.” Beyond its uses for target practice, hunting and self defense, the gun has a simple operation system that makes it easy to upgrade, the organization said.
AR-style rifles have been used in several mass shootings in the last several years, including at a country music concert in Las Vegas, a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and the elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Cameron Park’s crab feed is not the only event featuring an AR-style gun that is receiving criticism. In Michigan, a high school booster club canceled a fundraising dinner that would have featured a gun raffle including an AR-15. In Missouri, third graders are selling raffle tickets for an AR-15 to benefit their traveling baseball team.