Youth baseball league raffling off rifle as part of fundraiser

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EAST CANTON, Ohio - The President of the East Canton Baseball League says they have tried most every traditional means of raising funds.

"We tried the candy bars. We tried scotch doubles. We tried car washes in the past; they just didn't generate very much attention," said David Spencer.

What they are doing instead has attracted more attention than Spencer might like.

For the past five years the league has raised money by raffling guns, something Spencer and the league's board members believe fits with the character of the community.

"We are a community that enjoys, you know, hunting, fishing in those areas so part of that is firearms," said Spencer.

This year, the league is raffling five firearms which includes a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle.

"There's a stigma regarding that particular firearm that when people even hear the word AR-15 they get defensive; they get almost to the point where they are on edge," said Spencer.

Although the raffle is not new and the same kind of fundraising has been used by other organizations across the country many believe it is a poor choice for a youth event.

Some FOX 8 News Facebook friends commenting:  "This is not a great way to raise money for a CHILDRENS event!" and "It's a very bad taste with all the school shootings have been going on people need to use common sense."

But, from across the country much of the feedback has been positive with people from as far away as Florida asking if they can purchase tickets.

"This is something that is very controlled. It's done legally. It's done in a very controlled way, a very safe way because we do care whose hands these firearms end up in," said Spencer.

He says the league never takes possession of the firearms and the winners of the raffle have to go to a local dealer to get them where they will be required to meet the same legal requirements as if they are buying the guns at retail.

"They are required to go to that local dealer where they will perform the background check and that's a requirement; this is not something where we are handing a gun to anyone. We are not asking kids to hand over the weapons to anyone," said Spencer.

In the aftermath of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many believe that raffling a gun for a youth event appears insensitive.
Spencer says he understands there are people who object to the fundraiser, calling the Florida shooting a travesty.

He believes it is okay to disagree with their decision, but hopes the discussion about what they are doing will remain civil.

"Let's not sugar coat it. It was a travesty. It was insane what that kid did, but there are those that don't want their rights to be taken away. They don't feel that they should be grouped with a person such as that and for that we hear both sides. We understand it's a sensitive issue," said Spencer.

"We would never at East Canton do anything to put our youth in danger. We are only looking to help them and to help their program and that's the goal of this fundraiser," he added.

The drawing for the raffle will take place at the end of the month.

Spencer says there is no grand prize. The first of the tickets drawn can choose which of the firearms, which includes a handgun and a shotgun, they would most like to have.

He says the fundraiser brought in $5,000 last year and the league paid $7,000 just for equipment.

Parents can sell, but are not required to sell the tickets.

"Some parents don't have the money to shell out very large registration fees. They don't have that ability, so we made it a focus for us to keep our registration fees low so that the parents who are having financial hardships can sign their kids up. We do that with fundraisers," said Spencer.

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