With its sights set on influencing the 2014 statewide elections, the Greater Bluffton Republican Club knew it needed more members and more cash.
It hopes to attract both with a fundraising raffle that offers an AR-15 rifle from Palmetto State Armory as the grand prize.
The winner can claim the rifle — along with two, 30-round magazines and a voucher for a half-hour shooting lesson as a bonus — by attending the club’s Aug. 5 meeting.
“We have a brand new board, and we decided to try and take our club to a different level and see if we could get it to grow,” said Marcie Flynn, the club’s vice president. “So, we decided on a firearm as a fundraiser, and we’re trying to get some press for our little club.”
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Each $10 contribution buys one entry in the drawing. Entries are capped at 500. About half of the entries have already sold, Flynn says.
Contributions must be made during the club’s monthly meeting at Corks Wine Co. in Bluffton. Winners must be at least 18 years old and pass a background check to claim the gun.
“It’s not about the firearm, of course,” Flynn said. “It’s really about our Second Amendment rights and raising money for conservative causes.”
She can’t recall the group ever raffling a firearm before. She also couldn’t recall the board member who proposed it.
The semi-automatic AR-15 has long been among the most popular rifles in America among sportsmen and collectors.
It’s also one of the most controversial: Authorities say the alleged shooters in the Newtown, Conn., school massacre and Aurora, Colo., theater shooting both used the weapon.
Sales of AR-15s surged after those incidents amid fears that the federal government would try to ban such weapons. Although several states have passed stricter gun laws in recent months, attempts to strengthen federal laws were defeated in the U.S. Senate.
The local response to the fundraiser has been muted.
Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds declined to comment, as did Beaufort County Democratic Party Chairman Blaine Lotz.
A spokeswoman for S.C. Democratic Party said it had no issue with the raffle as long as the winner meets all legal requirements to own the gun.
Attempts to reach Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner after hours were not successful.
Not everyone was happy about the choice of prizes.
“I find it an odd thing to raffle off,” said Anna Murray, the mother of a student who attends Ashley Hall School in Charleston. A women with a history of mental illness — Alice Boland of Lady’s Island — was arrested at the school Feb. 4 after aiming a semi-automatic pistol at two school officials and pulling the trigger. The gun didn’t fire because no round was in the chamber. No one was injured.
Murray and a group of parents have been working at both the state and federal a levels to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
A bill requiring state courts and the State Law Enforcement Division to report people who have been deemed mentally ill to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System was signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley earlier this month.
John O’Donald, executive director of the S.C. Police Chief’s Association, said his group has no position on gun raffles. He plans to bring it up at the group’s next meeting.
“You just never know who is going to win it,” O’Donald, a retired Gaffney, S.C., police chief.
Alex Stroman, executive director of the S.C. Republican Party, was less reserved.
“When law-abiding citizens have the opportunity to get together and exercise their constitutionally protected rights, that is something we celebrate,” he said.
Reporter Gina Smith contributed to this report.