A group of protesters gathered Saturday afternoon in Jarrettsville to read the names of mass shooting victims outside an event for Harford County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Aaron Penman’s campaign, where an AR-15 rifle was to be raffled as part of the fundraiser.
Penman, a Republican who is running for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates, held a sold-out “gun/cash bingo” event Saturday evening at the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Co. The event included a raffle of an AR-15 gun, the same type of rifle used to kill 17 people at a school shooting in Florida last week.
The gun/cash bingo event had been announced by the campaign in mid-January. Sheriff’s Office Capt. Lee Dunbar, who heads the county’s narcotics task force, is Penman’s campaign manager. The campaign had billed Saturday’s fundraiser as being hosted by Second Amendment supporters and Harford Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler, an outspoken advocate for gun rights.
About 15 people gathered at 4:30 p.m. on a hillside next to the fire hall to peacefully protest the event. They read the names and shared the stories of mass shooting victims as snow fell into the night, recounting tragedies at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in Las Vegas and at Columbine High School in Colorado, among others.
“I wanted to make sure this was something that was really about the victims because you do have a right to do this but you can’t forget the consequences,” said Sarah Mogol, a Baltimore County resident who organized the vigil. “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”
Mogol heard about the fundraiser late Friday and hastily organized the vigil Saturday. Attendees took turns reading off the names of victims from shooting incidents over the last several decades, in some cases reading short biographies of the victims.
“This is not a protest; this is a vigil remembering victims, that’s it,” Mogol said. “We were very clear that this was not to be a protest because that shuts down conversation.”
Penman could not be reached for comment by The Baltimore Sun.
However, in a statement emailed Sunday evening to The Aegis he wrote, “In light of last week’s horrific school shooting in Florida, there were a few individuals motivated by their own political leanings who hoped to link my planned event, an event similar to those of other private organizations and other candidates for public office, to the events in Florida.”
“First and foremost, as a Christian, a husband and the father of four children, my thoughts and prayers are with the families,” Penman continued. “This tragic incident should prompt a debate and a discussion on how we can keep our schools safe and ensure that we do a better job of dealing with criminals and those with mental health issues that seek to do harm to our community.”
“Yes, I am a candidate for delegate in District 7 and I am also an ardent supporter of the 2nd Amendment,” he wrote. “I believe law abiding citizens have the Constitutional Right to own firearms and I respect that some in the community might have a difference of opinion. I believe we must always ensure that all of our Constitutional rights are upheld to ensure we continue to have a strong and free democracy.”
“Accordingly, I support their first amendment right to express their point of view, but making use of a planned fundraiser using the victims in Florida to push an anti-gun agenda by a few is distasteful,” he said.
Mogol and Sarah Sherman, a Baltimore resident who attended the vigil, agreed that bingo event attendees had every right to be there.
“We’re not here to change that. I think what we’re trying to push through is the names of this victims,” Sherman said. “The thing that we can all agree on is to be sorry for victims and it’s important for people to remember them.”
Dawn Greenberg, a Towson resident, said she came to the vigil because she feels strongly about gun safety and worries about school shootings, particularly because she has school-age children.
“Growing up I didn’t have to worry about this,” she said. “It puts you on edge having to drop your kids off at school knowing that an incident like this could happen.”
Allison Berkowitz, a Democrat who is also running for a seat in the House of Delegates representing District 7, said she heard about Penman’s bingo event several weeks ago.
“I hadn’t planned on doing anything because I’m trying really hard to create an area of trust and bipartisanship here,” she said. “I just hope that people will keep in mind that nobody wants guns to go away altogether, we just want — there has to be things that we can do to lessen gun violence.”
She attended the vigil, and took a turn sharing the stories of shooting victims over a megaphone.
“We’re not here trying to cause trouble or take away their guns,” she said. “We just want things to be safer for all of our children.”
The vigil ended by 5:45 p.m. and Penman’s event ran until 11 p.m.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Alan Vought contributed to this story.