A Southern California lawmaker has introduced legislation that would restrict how many times a nonprofit organization can raffle off a gun as a prize in response to the uproar over a Sacramento-area fire department raffling an AR-15 this winter.
Holden had originally sought to ban all gun raffles in California after the Cameron Park Community Services District’s AR-15 raffle for its fire department in February just days after Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead. The service district later apologized.
Holden recently rewrote the bill to allow for groups to each hold three raffles a year after some charitable organizations complained it would kill a key source of revenue for their programs.
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“This would put a limit on it, to be sure,” Holden told The Bee. “We think that's a reasonable one … I’m not quite sure why someone would want to raffle off an AR-15, but this would at least create a reasonable set of standards of how that would be done, and (ensure) it's in compliance with the law.”
In rural or conservative counties, firearms often are raffled or auctioned off at banquets and crab feed dinners such as the one held February in Cameron Park to raise money for firefighters. Law enforcement boosters, some churches, veterans groups and hunter-supported wildlife habitat organizations also frequently raffle or auction firearms.
The wildlife groups, in particular, say Holden's bill would destroy their fundraising model. Rifles and shotguns are usually top prizes offered at their fundraising banquets, and many attendees show up in the hopes of winning an expensive firearm. The organizers of such events say AR-style rifles aren’t commonly offered as prizes at their banquets. Holden’s bill makes no exceptions for type of rifle.
At the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a nonprofit supported by big-game hunters that raises money for elk habitat, about half of the $1 million raised annually in California comes from gun raffles, said Mark Lambrecht, the foundation’s director of government affairs.
“This misguided legislation would do nothing to help public safety,” he said in an email. “It will only harm California’s wildlife and people who enjoy recreating outdoors.”
The California Waterfowl Association, a hunter-supported wetland-habitat organization, hosts about 100 fundraising banquets each year, almost all of which feature gun raffles. The dinners net around $2 million each year, said Jeff Volberg, the group’s lobbyist.
Volberg said if Holden’s bill passes, it would cut those revenues by as much as 75 percent. Without the prospect of winning an gun, “people just wouldn't show up” at the banquets, Volberg said.
Supporters of gun raffles say winners don’t just head home with a gun after winning one. Because they have to abide by California’s strict gun laws, the firearm has to be taken by a licensed dealer for processing. A gun owner has to pass a background check, abide by a 10-day waiting period and pay a processing fee.
“They all do the exact things they do if they went to the gun store and bought a gun,” said Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California.
Dr. Bill Durston, the Sacramento-based president of Americans Against Gun Violence, said he wishes nonprofits would find other ways to raise money that didn't involve guns, and he opposes raffling handguns and assault rifles because they have “no legitimate civilian use.”
But he said he’s not as concerned about raffles for “traditional sporting rifles or shotguns." More broadly, he said he wished California’s Legislature would spend its time trying to ban all semi-automatic firearms, instead of these sorts of half-measures that he said won't have much of an impact on gun violence.
The bill awaits a hearing at the Assembly’s Committee on Governmental Organization.