As Others Buy Back Guns, New Hampshire Police Raffle Them Off

What a mess they've made for themselves

Try as it might to find an apolitical resolution, there is pretty much no easy way out of the fiasco the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police has created for itself by hosting a month-long gun raffle.

For weeks, the organization has been mired in criticism for its fundraiser, in which it will raffle off a gun a day for 31 days in May. The organization sold all 1,000 of its $30 tickets, raising $30,000 for its police academy. If you say nothing else about this idea, you can at least say that it bucks the trend among law enforcement groups nationwide in the wake of the Newtown shootings. As a Nashua Telegraph editorial noted, police organizations across the country are trying to limit gun violence with local buyback programs, offering people gift cards and other incentives to turn in guns. Not so in New Hampshire.

One New Hampshire resident, Robert Sprague, tried to give them a way out by offering to raise the $30,000 necessary to return the 1,000 raffle tickets the Association already sold and destroy the guns they planned to distribute. But, of course, that's not exactly a way out, as it puts the police in the position of having to favor either fewer guns in the hands of legal owners or more. Either way, they're going to anger one of the interest groups. The Association rejected the offer, Sprague tells the Boston Globe, “citing fears of a lawsuit from disgruntled ticket-buyers.”

Fears of a lawsuit? It strikes this non-lawyer as highly unlikely that anyone would go to the trouble of bringing a lawsuit (much less win one) for the grievance of having a raffle ticket fully reimbursed. But we suppose that fear of a lawsuit sounds like a less controversial excuse for continuing the raffle in the face of criticism than the statement they made in January when the controversy got rolling:

New Hampshire Chiefs of Police feel the issues with these tragic shootings are ones that are contrary to lawful and responsible gun ownership. We believe in and support the Second Amendment, and encourage education in the area of firearms safety.

As the Nashua Telegraph's great editorial from January points out, there's a difference between law enforcement supporting the right to bear arms, and law enforcement actively promoting those arms. The Telegraph editors write:

Now, let’s be clear. We’re not suggesting that gun buyback programs are the single solution to gun violence in America. They’re not.

Nor are we suggesting that law-abiding citizens don’t have the right to own firearms for hunting, sport and personal protection. They do.

But we are suggesting that in a nation that sports the highest rate of gun ownership in the world – and the second-highest rate of gun deaths among industrialized nations behind Mexico – there’s something quite disturbing about the state’s police chiefs consciously putting more guns into circulation.

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police has put itself in a position where it isn't just neutrally enforcing laws, it's either advocating for a more highly armed citizenry or it isn't. A “fear of lawsuits” won't change the fact that they've gone with the former.