Third-graders in a Missouri community are continuing to sell raffle tickets for an AR-15 to benefit their traveling baseball team after the same type of rifle was used to slaughter and injure dozens at a Florida school.
Levi Patterson, the coach of a 9-and-under baseball team in Neosho, Mo., told The Star the idea was conceived before the shooting in Parkland, Fla.
A father of one of the players — who co-founded Black Rain Ordnance Inc., a weapons purveyor in Neosho — offered the weapon for the raffle.
Patterson said by phone Saturday that he considered finding a different raffle item after Wednesday’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but ultimately decided to “turn it into a positive thing” after “getting the hate.”
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“One of the people from the hate group turned in (a Facebook post about the raffle) for I don’t know what,” Patterson said. The post had shown a weapon next to the school logo, leading to fierce criticism by some until Facebook removed the post, according to Patterson.
After this story was published, Patterson said he mistakenly said the critics were part of a hate group. He said he does not view them as a hate group but as a concerned group that has “every right to stand up for what they believe in.”
“I applaud them for standing up for what they believe in. I just think they have feelings to this specific type of gun (that are) different than people around here do,” he said.
Patterson said donations have poured in as the criticism reached a peak following the Florida shooting; people from as far away as Colorado offered to buy tickets on Facebook.
“Are you all tone deaf?” wrote Dan Weaver in a comment on Patterson’s page. “AR15 kills seventeen so you raffle a gun for child sports? Lord, people wake the hell up. Justify all you want but you are wrong, period.”
Patterson responded by writing that “gun raffles have been going on for years. Evil has and will always exist. Our hearts break for those involved, and we do not take that lightly.”
He also told The Star that he was not making a political statement with the raffle item. It was simply what had been offered by Black Rain.
He said critics view the weapon as a “killing machine.”
On Wednesday, Patterson took to Facebook to fire back at the “concerned group” critical of the raffle.
“We appreciate your ‘concern’ but please understand, we are not, have not, and will not force one of our boys to sell raffle tickets for the Black Rain AR15 Spec 15, if they are uncomfortable doing so,” he wrote.
He told The Star that all the players, who range in age from 7 to 9, are selling the raffle tickets.
The raffle is not affiliated with the Neosho School District.
The winner must pass a background check before receiving the gun.
Lee Woodward, the principal of South Elementary School in Neosho, announced the raffle on her Facebook page and encouraged purchases to support the “9u Neosho baseball players, coaches, and parents.” The post was made hours after the Florida shooting.
Woodward did not return a call or text to a phone number listed in her name.
Tyler Tannahill, a Republican congressional candidate from Kansas, also drew criticism this past week for offering an AR-15 giveaway as part of his campaign.