LESLIE – Chad Risner was looking to raise money for his youth wrestling club, enough so parents wouldn’t have to pay for their son to participate.
He settled on a “Gun Giveaway,” with prizes for 28 firearms and two other prizes, one to be drawn each day in September.
“This is just a way to move forward and make the parents happy,” said Risner, head coach of the Leslie Youth Wrestling Club, which is not affiliated with the Leslie School District. “Times are tough right now. We’re trying to make it so they don’t have to pay anything all year.”
The idea seems to have worked. The club sold all 1,000 raffle tickets in just six days, worth $20,000, and Risner was still fielding calls this week from people wanting to buy.
While reactions on social media were mixed, some people felt the gun giveaway was insensitive or inappropriate during a time when mass shootings have become commonplace and restricting access to guns by fire is a fiercely contested political issue.
“This is so weird,” Alissa Beaty Giler posted on the fight club’s Facebook page. “I just thought that we really don’t involve guns enough in kids’ extracurricular activities.”
“In my unsolicited opinion, I’m with the residents who think this is SUPER insensitive to say the least and yes … this is inappropriate for school age children, organizations and school districts,” Derek Ward said in a message posted on the State Journal’s Facebook page. .
Risner said he took the criticism in stride, adding, “You could give flowers and people would complain.”
But he admitted he didn’t expect all the backlash he saw.
Risner noted that technically nothing is being given away. Tickets are $20 each, minors cannot enter the drawing, and anyone who wins a gun will have to meet all firearms regulations to claim it, including the standard federal background check, he added.
“We have nothing to do with the school,” he said. “I don’t think these people understand that there are background checks. No guns seen by kids, nothing like that. Not that this is illegal, but the kids don’t even know what’s going on.”
The raffle is sponsored by the fight club and the American Legion Post 491 in Leslie. Winners will be determined by the Michigan Lottery 3-digit drawing. Prizes include a mix of shotguns, rifles and handguns, with a $400 gun voucher and a $300 ammunition voucher.
Risner said winners will have the option of getting clothing or other merchandise depending on the value of the gun. All prizes must be claimed at Litchfield Outdoors in Litchfield.
This is the first time the wrestling club has tried a gun raffle, Risner said. He’s seen the idea used in other areas, such as Calhoun and Hillsdale counties, and tickets seem to sell out in no time, he said.
The Leslie community has been supportive, she said.
“We’ve sold to school teachers, we’ve sold to people you wouldn’t really think would buy,” he said.
The wrestling club last year had about 50 participants, from eighth grade on down, Risner said. Cost is an issue for many families and the raffle is a way to cover club dues, he said.
“Last year we caught a kid sneaking chicken home in a bag because he didn’t have much to eat,” she said. “We certainly want it to be comfortable for him while he’s here.”
The gun giveaway probably won’t be the fight club’s last, Risner said.
“We could talk to the Legion; maybe we’ll have another one,” he said. “There are a lot of people who still want tickets. I just got a call from a guy who wanted to buy six more tickets.”
Contact Ken Palmer firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KBPalm_lsj.
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