NEW RICHMOND, Ohio – An elementary school cheerleading league is facing criticism after asking students to sell raffle tickets for a semi-automatic rifle.
Heather Chilton said her 7-year-old daughter was asked to sell tickets for an AM-15 optic ready rifle to raise money for the New Richmond Junior Lions Football and Cheer program in Ohio, according to CNN affiliate WXIX.
“This is absurd, you’re having elementary kids sell your AR-15. Why?” Chilton told WXIX. “I highly doubt that something would happen with the gun, but say it did. Say one of the kids in the high school got a hold of it — got the AR-15 or AM-15 and shot up a school with it, and I’m the one that sold the raffle ticket to his dad?”
The New Richmond Junior Lions Football and Cheer program is an independent, nonprofit organization for cheerleaders and football players ages 5 to 12. About 150 students participate in the program, according to the league’s president, Robert Wooten.
The raffle has been a popular fundraiser
According to WXIX, Chilton received an email in July indicating that all members of the cheer team were required to sell five AM-15 raffle tickets and five gift basket raffle tickets for $10 each. Otherwise, they would be subject to an opt-out fee of $100 per child.
Chilton told the station she raised her concerns to Wooten.
The league has raffled off a gun in an annual fundraiser for four years, Wooten told CNN. Members of the board choosing the prize, and he said until recently, the raffle has been a popular fundraiser for the league, which spent nearly $4,000 on new equipment last year.
“It’s easy to sell. It’s a hot item,” Wooten said.
Wooten said he didn’t receive complaints about the raffle until this year — three mothers with children in the league have complained so far. Still, Wooten said he understands the concerns, saying the criticism has prompted the league to reconsider whether it would offer the same prize next year.
“We are compassionate [on] where people may be on the gun issue,” Wooten said. “This was not a way for us to promote gun violence or incite violence. We are going to reevaluate this next year.”
The outrage over the fundraiser comes just weeks after a mass shooting left nine people dead in Dayton, Ohio, just over an hour away from New Richmond.
‘We are going to reevaluate this next year’
“This was bad timing,” Wooten said. “I also think there is a greater issue people are missing. Just in our hometown alone, we got so many other issues that are the root problem. The gun violence we see is a symptom of a larger problem. I wish we would focus on the greater root.”
In response to the concerns of some parents, Wooten said he made the fundraiser optional and exempted unwilling participants from having to pay the opt-out fee. He also said that parents uncomfortable with selling tickets for the rifle could sell tickets for a gift basket.
“We’re not going to send them a bill,” he said. “We don’t operate that way.”
Chilton told WXIX that even though her daughter was able to opt out of the fundraiser, she still felt uncomfortable that other members of the team would be selling raffle tickets for the gun.
“With me doing this, I’m teaching the girls they have to stand up for what they believe,” she told the station. “This is something that they shouldn’t even have to worry about dealing with or even be around.”
Despite the criticism and concerns, Wooten said the gun raffle tickets for this year’s fundraiser, which began July 30 and ends later this month, “sold like hot cakes.”
The winner will be announced Sept. 3, Wooten said, and will have to pass an FBI background check before going home with the gun.