Despite the fireworks it has generated, the Rhode Island Republican Party will be sponsoring a “Second Amendment Celebration” at the South County Rod & Gun Club in West Greenwich on Sunday, with raffle items such as firearms, ammunition and accessories.
“This isn’t a political statement by any means,” Steve Tetzner, the finance chair for the RIGOP, said during a phone interview Tuesday. “If people don’t support the Second Amendment and they are Republicans, Democrats or whatever they are, then they are not going to come to this event. It wasn’t intended to offend anybody or create a mass-media frenzy.”
But that’s exactly what’s going on, as multiple media outlets have aired and published reports relating to the topic. While he feels certain reporters have “blown this out of proportion,” he’s also grateful for the attention.
“Our phone is ringing off the hook,” he said. “Some people are making a special trip to the office just to buy raffle tickets.”
State Rep. Doreen Costa (R-North Kingstown, Exeter), the RIGOP’s finance director, is also thrilled for the media attention.
“We sold about $1,000 worth of tickets in about two hours,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “The press that we’ve gotten is priceless, as far as I’m concerned. People are going to interpret it the way they want to interpret it. They are going to think what they want to think.”
Warwick resident Richard Langseth, who is active in local politics and has been a member of the Republican Party for five years, said he is disgusted by the event. He’s so put off that he went to City Hall to switch to the Democratic Party.
“I was mortified beyond belief,” said Langseth, referring to his reaction to viewing an e-mail promoting the event. “But I’m not entirely surprised.”
Langseth said he was equally as offended when he watched a video shown at a celebration the RIGOP hosted last year that photo-shopped President Obama standing alongside Adolf Hitler.
“They are going so radical,” he said. “That’s why people are leaving the party. They are raffling off assault rifles. The Republican Party has no place to be raffling off assault rifles in the state of Rhode Island.”
Tetzner thinks it’s unfortunate that Langseth, along with particular media outlets, is focusing on the fact that one of the raffle items is an AR-15 sporting rifle. He said it’s a legal weapon in Rhode Island, and one of the most popular weapons for gun enthusiasts.
Tetzner said the event has nothing to do with the Republican Party itself.
“There are people on both sides of this issue within the Party, and there are a lot of people who are Democrats that support Second Amendment rights,” he said. “Everyone says, ‘Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.’ If people are fanatics and they want to hurt people, they find a way to do it.”
Tetzner said plenty of people enjoy shooting as a sport and don’t use guns to harm others.
“It’s just like people who play golf,” he said. “They play because it’s relaxing and challenging, and that’s what shooting sports are.”
RIGOP Chairman Mark Smiley agrees. In an e-mail, he wrote that target shooting has many enthusiasts in Rhode Island.
“Events like this event happen almost every weekend in September and October,” he wrote. “The RIGOP believes strongly in the 2nd Amendment, but we do realize that some control is reasonable. Many in the Republican Party want the discussion regarding gun control to change into a discussion about mental health and strengthening our police and medical professional’s ability to intervene before there’s an incident. Guns are not the only weapons available to those seeking to hurt someone because they are mentally unbalanced. Fixing the underlying problem is a better approach [instead of] trying to take away the surface issue.”
He noted that Chicago has some of the strongest gun control laws, and also some of the worst gun violence in the country.
“That’s because ‘Controlling Guns’ doesn’t address the problems that cause gun violence,” Smiley wrote.
Three potential gubernatorial candidates, including General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Angel Tavares and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, as well as Moderate Party founder Ken Block, the sole announced candidate, disagree. Each of them opposes the event.
“While I am a supporter of the Second Amendment, as a former criminal prosecutor, I have strong reservations against the raffling of a semi-automatic weapon,” Fung said in a statement. “This is not something that I would ever do to raise campaign funds.”
The second vice chair for the state GOP, Danny Hall, who ran for the Ward 5 Warwick City Council seat as a Republican twice in the past, said while he favors the Second Amendment, he wonders if the backlash of upsetting people that have been affected by gun violence is worth the hassle.
“If you’re looking at it from a fundraising aspect like they are, I think it’s a fantastic idea,” he said. “But if you’re looking at it as a PR situation, I think it’s more of a nightmare. The state GOP has very little money and needs to do whatever they can to raise money and get candidates. And they are taking the proper safety precautions.”
Mike Penta, the chair of the Warwick GOP, thinks a raffle of guns isn’t the best idea for a fundraiser. His biggest concern is that the event will place guns in the hands of the “wrong people.”
“I don’t think it’s wise,” said Penta, who ran for Ward 4 Councilman last term. “Would I have one of those functions here? No. A raffle off of weapons is something I wouldn’t do if I had a fundraiser in Warwick.”
Smiley noted that raffle winners won’t be given prizes at the event. Rather, they will receive a certificate to be redeemed at the gun shop that donated the item. Each winner will be responsible for passing state and federal background checks before being issued the weapon.
And while Langseth is leaving the Republican Party, Costa said she received at least a dozen calls from Democrats that are switching to the Republican Party as a result of the event. She also pointed out that a Democrat, Rep. Steve Casey of Woonsocket, took local legislators to the range to teach them about gun safety about two months ago.
“Every Democrat in the House shot,” she said. “I have pictures to prove it. I’m done with the whole double standard. They need to get off their high horse and stop being hypocritical. This is not about Republicans or Democrats.”
North Kingstown resident Richard Patenaude, the president of United Bow Hunters of Rhode Island and a member of the Warwick Sportsman’s Association, is looking forward to the event. He praised the RIGOP for planning it.
“I think it’s exceptional,” said Patenaude, who has been an archery and firearm instructor for 35 years. “Through Doreen and all the people in the sports fraternity, we’ve had the ability to fight for our Second Amendment right. We’re not a radical group of people. All we’re asking for is the ability to be who we are and what we are. This is more of an educational and informational event.”
Patenaude also said that hunting has a big impact on the American economy. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a national trade association for the firearms industry that is based in Newtown, Conn., reported that hunting’s $38.3 billion economic impact in 2011 was more than Google’s annual revenue.
The event, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., will benefit the 2014 Campaign Fund of the Rhode Island Republican Party for state legislative candidates. It will feature more than 80 raffle items, which are valued at approximately $7,000. Items include a Smith & Wesson M & P 15, a Beretta .357 single-action “Stampede” in “excellent condition,” 200 rounds of .223 ammo, a $500 gift certificate to D & L Shooting Supplies, a six-hour fishing day for two anglers donated by Rod Raso, New England Patriots tickets, a RIGOP polo shirt, and more. Gift certificates to local eateries and salons are also listed.
Activities such as rifle and pistol shooting, plus skeet and trap shooting, will be offered. National Rifle Association (NRA) certified range officers will be on hand to serve as supervised volunteers.
“We’ve been looking for different ways to raise money and thought that this would be a fun family day,” Tetzner said. “It’s free and people can bring their kids. We’re going to have archery for the kids and people will have an opportunity to go to the range and shoot some weapons under NRA supervision. People who are interested can come down and have some fun.”
Raffle tickets, which are $5 each or $25 for six, can be purchased in advance by calling the RIGOP at 732-8282, or by visiting RIGOP at 1800 Airport Road Plaza from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit the RIGOP website at rirepublican.com for more information.