When its bull roast ended $300 in the red and enough cash wasn't left over to start a direct-mail campaign, a Carroll County Republican group decided to try a new fund-raising strategy that would show support for gun owners: raffle a 9 mm pistol.
But the group's plan has drawn criticism from state GOP leaders, who consider the gun raffle ill-timed and improper.
The Carroll County Republican Central Committee is selling $5 tickets for a chance to win a Beretta 9 mm pistol and a copy of "More Guns, Less Crime," a book by University of Chicago Professor John Lott, who argues that crime could be reduced if more citizens carried guns.
"We are doing this to raise money. We are not doing this to get in anyone's face," said Scott Hollenbeck, a central committee member who organized the raffle. "We want to reach out to Second Amendment people."
Gun rights advocates are increasingly under attack in Maryland, Hollenbeck said. State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. called last month for stricter gun-control laws, including a ban on the private ownership of handguns. And Gov. Parris N. Glendening said this week that he plans to push legislation that would require trigger locks on guns.
State GOP officials winced at news of the raffle, asking why a less objectionable prize wasn't chosen.
"I think in the climate we are in today, this is not something that was well-timed," said Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a member of the Republican national committee.
Sauerbrey said other fund-raisers -- such as a speaker or a dinner -- would have raised money for the group.
Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Howard County Republican, agreed. "I feel they could pick something that would appeal to a broader group of people," he said. "It would not have been my choice."
Members of the Carroll delegation defended the raffle, noting that raising money in their rural county is not the same as doing so in Howard or Montgomery.
"They can have a wine-and-cheese party and charge $125 per person. We can't do that in Carroll County," said Republican Del. Joseph M. Getty.
Hollenbeck said his group plans to sell 500 tickets and draw a winner at next month's central committee meeting or at the annual county delegation breakfast next year, depending on when all the tickets have been sold. The Beretta pistol, which sells for about $600, was chosen because it is made in Maryland, he said.
Sauerbrey said other fund-raisers could be as successful.
"Well-run events work. Events where people are committed to making them a success," she said. "I attended the bull roast. I'm sure they were disappointed. It did not draw the crowds the central committee has normally. It wasn't properly organized."
Officials in Glendening's office also spoke out against the raffle.
"That is completely inappropriate. [The governor] is working to try to develop a mandate that would make all handguns child-proof and on efforts to cut down on handgun violence. This is completely inappropriate. It sends the wrong message," said Michelle Byrnie, spokeswoman for the governor's office.
Del. Carmen Amedori, a Carroll Republican, said the criticism was misguided.
"It's a good moneymaking fund-raiser. If we smoke, we're dirty. If we own guns, we're dirty. I've had enough from these left-wing zealots," she said.
This is not the first time a gun raffle has stirred controversy in Maryland. In 1994, U.S. Senate candidate C. Ronald Franks drew criticism for raffling an assault rifle -- a weapon that was banned from sale nationwide weeks later -- to raise money for his campaign.
Franks, a dentist and former state delegate from the Eastern Shore, sold more than 3,700 tickets at $5 apiece for the heavy-barreled semiautomatic rifle. The raffle attracted ticket buyers from 18 states.