People who run chambers of commerce aren’t publicity-shy. They relish almost any opportunity to promote their fundraising events.
It’s different this week in the northeastern New Mexico town of Clayton, population 3,100. Most leaders of the Clayton-Union County Chamber of Commerce have been unreachable regarding the raffle they’re holding Friday.
The reason is the prize. It’s an AR-15 rifle.
Instead of providing groceries or gasoline to the winner of the raffle, Clayton’s chamber will hand someone a weapon similar to those used in two mass murders last month.
A shooter in Buffalo, N.Y., killed 10 people and wounded three others in a supermarket. The gunman charged in Buffalo’s rampage is white. Most of the victims were Black.
Ten days after the attack in Buffalo, another gunman murdered 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The shooter in Uvalde struck May 24, exactly one month before Clayton’s chamber will raffle off the AR-15 rifle.
“We were selling our raffle tickets before Uvalde,” said April Gallegos, executive director of Clayton’s chamber of commerce.
That’s hardly sufficient reason to continue. Organizations in other places steeped in the culture of guns have backed away from strikingly similar fundraisers.
The Police Athletic Association in Belton, Mo., canceled a raffle in which an AR-15 rifle was to be the prize. “After tragic recent events, it would be inappropriate to continue with the raffle as planned,” the organization announced in a statement.
A fire department in the Philadelphia suburb of Media, Pa., decided against using an AR-15 rifle and other firearms in its raffle. The department will hand out cash prizes instead.
Yet another AR-15 rifle was to be the raffle prize in Forest City, N.C., to raise money for a high school wrestling team. The organizer of that event said he had suspended the raffle, whatever that means.
It’s bad enough that so many organizations wanted to use AR-15 rifles as bait in fundraisers to help kids and firefighters. It’s worse the Clayton chamber of commerce is sticking to the plan.
Gallegos said her board members authorized the raffle for the AR-15 rifle. She said neither she nor others with the chamber had received any objections, even after the murders in Uvalde.
“And did you notice the restrictions we have?” Gallegos asked. She referred to the chamber requiring that the raffle winner be at least 18 years old and pass a background check to legally possess a firearm.
The shooters in Uvalde and Buffalo were both 18. They obtained their rifles legally, only to turn them on innocents. Their weaponry gave them the capability of squeezing off dozens of rounds before their prey could react.
I called the four Clayton chamber board members listed as sellers of the raffle tickets, which go for $20 apiece. I wanted to ask if they had any reservations about supplying someone with an AR-15 rifle after May’s mass murders.
Three of the board members didn’t respond. The other had no mailbox.
J&E Supply, a gun store in Union County, provided the AR-15 rifle for the chamber. A man who identified himself as the owner of the shop said he gave the chamber a discount on the price.
Manufactured by Palmetto State Armory in South Carolina, the rifle is featured prominently on the Clayton chamber’s promotional materials. Palmetto listed the retail price of this particular AR-15 as $1,100 — a Father’s Day special.
I asked the owner of J&E Supply about the firearm’s similarities to the rifle used in Uvalde. He hung up the phone.
Gallegos said the chamber modeled its raffle after other organizations that offered guns as prizes. Business boosters ought to be more creative, especially after seeing the faces of all those kids in Uvalde.
Like the rest of the country, Clayton cannot ignore the danger of firearms in the hands of someone bent on killing children.
Its police department in February was part of “active school shooter training” at Clayton’s schools. There’s no worse term in the lexicon than “school shooter training,” though “friendly fire” is a close second.
As the nation debates renewed legislation to ban the type of firearms used in Uvalde and Buffalo, Clayton’s raffle of the AR-15 rifle moves forward. All the proceeds will go toward the community’s fireworks display July 4.
I suppose Independence Day might look better with the rockets’ red glare. Civic leaders from a chamber of commerce extolling an AR-15 rifle is another matter.
Politicians would call it “bad optics.” For this one time, their description hits the bull’s-eye.