TOWN OF KENT,NY – Less than 24 hours after coming under attack for sponsoring a fundraising raffle with the winner receiving an AR-15 rifle, the Kent Volunteer Fire Department, one of Putnam’s smallest, which needs funds, decided to change the winning prize to a gift certificate at a local gun shop.
In the wake of the tragedy that befell south Florida earlier this month, the timing of the raffle couldn’t have been worse.
The situation reached the boiling point when after several unsuccessful fundraising attempts including the sale of tee-shirts and chocolate covered pretzels, the department’s membership decided to conduct the raffle with the grand prize being the highly criticized weapon.
On Monday evening, an overflow crowd jammed into the Kent Fire Department headquarters for a meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners.
Commission Chairman Doug Casey was joined by Howard Carpenter, John Favreau, Ron Hendon and Barry Salan.
Casey told the audience that the raffle was “neither condoned nor supported by the commissioners. We have notified the fire department that the raffling of an AR-15 does not show good judgment or sensitivity to the community served. We encourage the fire department to suspend the raffle. The Kent FD should represent a course of safety and wellbeing throughout our community.”
Fire department Captain Mike Christiansen explained that while the grand prize of the raffle was an AR-15 it was not considered to be an assault rifle since it did not contain a folding telescope stock, nor a bayonet mount or a grenade launcher.
“The raffle is being held in compliance with all New York State and federal guidelines,” Christiansen said. “The fire department will never own the gun. The gun is being provided by a registered gun dealer in Carmel which will conduct a background check on the winner.”
The explanation did not sit well with the audience.
Liz Gaffney said while appreciating the Second Amendment and “responsible gun owners, I value my children’s lives and am terrified about sending my children to school. Yes, Kent is a hunting community. I respect hunters. But we can’t put more guns into our community.”
One man told the gathering, “This is bad timing. What a terrible PR move! What’s wrong with you folks? The Kent FD is looking like a bunch of idiots!”
Another man said, “This may not be an assault rifle but in the eyes of the public, it is an assault rifle!”
Kent Fire Department President Gladys Bolbrock said her department was “sensitive to what occurred in Florida but everyone is entitled to his or her belief. This is a fundraiser, plain and simple.”
Bolbrock added, “For us to back down will make the department look like cowards to the Second Amendment proponents.”
Late Tuesday, Bolbrock said that “After talking with several people, our department has decided to change the raffle’s top prize to a gift certificate equivalent to the price of the previous prize that will be used towards the winner’s choice.”
Several of those attending the meeting offered to write checks to the department for $100 if the raffle was suspended.
Commissioner Favreau summed up the commissioner’s feelings. “We are not opposed to a gun raffle. What we are concerned is that a raffle for an AR-15 during these times is poor judgment.”