The Carroll County Agriculture Center’s decision to hold a gun raffle Saturday, including the auction of a custom AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, has drawn criticism from a few hundred county residents.
A petition with more than 360 signatures was presented to Heather Kuykendall, a representative at the Ag Center, in Westminster Friday, by four county residents who said they are upset and concerned about the event.
“To me, it feels like a cruel April Fool’s joke to the community’s children to be so casual about placing another AR-15 into circulation,” said Melissa Shaffer of Westminster. “The center is asked to reconsider and to reaffirm their commitment to the wellbeing of the community. They have a reputation of nurture and it would be heartening during this week of tragedy to see that side of them again.”
Shaffer, along with Anne Blue of Westminster, Mary Pat Lowe, a member of Mom’s Demand Action Maryland in Westminster, and Jennifer Teeter of Westminster, dropped off the petition Friday afternoon. Shaffer also presented daffodils to the center’s representative as a peace offering, and a symbol of the farming and gardening events the agriculture center normally hosts.
Shaffer gave an emotional plea to the Ag Center to withdraw the AR-15 raffle during what she described as a cordial conversation.
Kuykendall told the women that she sympathized with their concerns but had no control over what weapons would be auctioned off at the raffle. She said that all federal laws involving guns would be followed.
The Sportsman’s Bonanza and Dinner is scheduled from 4 to 11 p.m., Saturday, at the Ag Center’s Shipley Arena. The cost is $40 per person, according to the center’s website.
The event will include a raffle of various types and sizes of guns, including an AR-15, and will also feature gambling games such as tip jars and pull tabs. There will also be a corn hole tournament and a moon bounce for children.
According to the event information listed on the Ag Center’s website, firearms for the event will be supplied by Bollinger Gunsmithing & Sales of Taneytown.
Bob Bollinger, owner of Bollinger Gunsmithing & Sales, confirmed that the AR-15 rifle would be auctioned off on Saturday and would not be taken off the auction list. He said protests over the AR-15 are unfounded.
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“What should we do, take all AR-15s? Should we take the guns, throw them in the trash?” he said Friday. “Firearms are not the problem. And the people know it. They’re smart enough to know it. People are the problem.”
Bollinger said law enforcement officers would be onsite to ensure safety during the event Saturday and that anyone who wins a firearm must go through a background check before receiving it.
“The fact that people have a problem with AR-15s is no concern to me. I have no interest in debating AR-15s,” Bollinger said. “It just gets me all fired up.”
Teeter said considering the mass shooting March 27 at The Covenant School in Nashville, it is inappropriate for the Ag Center to be auctioning off an AR-15 at a gun raffle. Three staff members and three students — all 9 years old — were killed in the shooting. Three firearms, including an AR-15, were found at the school, authorities said.
“One minute I hear about the latest tragedy in Nashville, and the next minute I hear about this,” Teeter said. “How can this happen in our community? It’s inappropriate and disrespectful. It speaks volumes. How does a gun raffle fall into the mission of the agriculture center.”
Multiple attempts to contact the Ag Center were unsuccessful. When reached by phone Kuykendall confirmed that she received the petition but did not want to comment further.
The Carroll County Ag Center is a nonprofit organization run by a board of directors. Its mission is “to further the appreciation and understanding of agriculture in the area.” For more than 50 years, the Ag Center has hosted rodeos, livestock and equestrian outings, live music and entertainment shows, auto and motorcycle events, trade shows and exhibits and the Carroll County 4-H and FFA Fair.