By Doug Ireland
---- — The New Hampshire police chiefs association is taking heat, but stands behind its decision to raffle firearms to the public, including semiautomatic weapons.
The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police has been criticized for holding the fundraiser in the wake of the fatal shootings of 26 people, including 20 young children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Association president Paul Donovan, chief of the Salem Police Department, issued a statement this week, acknowledging the criticism and defending the group’s decision. He said the organization is sorry for what happened in Newtown and that it supports the constitutional right to bear arms.
“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 said. “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.”
Donovan was not available for comment yesterday. Derry police Chief Edward Garone, the organization’s secretary, declined to comment, referring all questions to Donovan.
The raffle, called A Month of New Hampshire-made Firearms, is being held to raise money for the New Hampshire Police Cadet Training Academy. The academy is a one-week program that teaches 14- to 20-year-olds about law enforcement.
A different firearm — supplied by Ruger, Sig Sauer and Rody’s Gun Shop of Newport — is to be raffled each day in May. All 1,000 of the $30 raffle tickets were sold as of Saturday, according to the organization.
Donovan said in his statement, dated Monday and posted on the organization’s website, that raffle winners must meet all firearm laws.
The association worked closely with the New Hampshire attorney general’s office to make sure the fundraiser followed all regulations, he said. The fundraiser, launched in October, is receiving harsh reviews across the state.
Rep. Sharon Nordgren, D-Hanover, said the raffle is clearly inappropriate.
“It’s amazing they can be so insensitive, when this country is trying to grapple with (Newtown) and trying to prevent it,” she said. “You would hope there would be some sensitivity of what the country is going through, whether they agree on gun control or not.”
But other lawmakers, including gun-control advocate Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said the raffle is OK as long all regulations are followed and the winners are determined to be responsible gun owners.
“If they are following the law, I don’t have a problem with it,” she said.
The bigger problem, Carson said, is firearms ending up in the wrong hands, especially those who are mentally ill.
“I know there are a lot of people focusing on the gun issue right now,” she said. “But I really think they should be focusing on mental health issues. This is where we should be concentrating our efforts instead of going after law-abiding citizens.”
Southern New Hampshire police chiefs had mixed views, with some declining comment because they said they were not familiar enough with the issue.
Sandown police Chief Joseph Gordon said he did not oppose the raffle as long as regulations were properly followed.
“It’s when they get in the hands of bad people that there is a problem,” he said.
Atkinson police Chief Philip Consentino said although he supports the association, he didn’t like the idea of the weapons ending up in the public’s hands.
“I wouldn’t say anything against the association,” he said. “That’s just my personal feeling.”
It’s not the first such raffle in the state. In the fall, the Wildlife Heritage Foundation of New Hampshire and the Barn Store of New England also raffled off 30 firearms over 30 days — to benefit Conservation Law Enforcement activities of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.