And the raffle’s prizes to help benefit the Hilliard Colts organization were coveted: three guns. Contestants were shooting to win two handguns — a 9mm Glock-19 and an M&P-380 Shield EZ — plus a Smith & Wesson M&P-15, a version of the AR-15 military-style rifle, in a raffle sponsored by an indoor shooting range and firearms store.
While parents and coaches defended the event as a great way to raise resources for the team, located outside Columbus, pushback from critics and members of the community soon had some questioning the youth organization’s decision to raffle off handguns and a semiautomatic rifle, Hamlin said.
“My kids played travel baseball, too, but there is appropriate and inappropriate,” Hamlin told The Washington Post. “How can you ask kids to have active-shooter drills in school and after school ask them to sell raffle tickets to win weapons that you are trying to protect yourself against?”
Now, after days of people expressing disappointment and questioning the decision to move forward with the raffle, the team announced it was no longer raffling off the guns this weekend. In an email to The Post, Kevin Yankovich, commissioner of the Hilliard Baseball Association, said that while “the raffle was completely legal and being run in a responsible manner,” the organization’s board of directors decided late Thursday that there were other ways for the youth team to raise money.
“I totally understood why they wanted to do a raffle, as it is an excellent way to raise money,” Yankovich said. “However, we felt the items being raffled didn’t reflect our baseball organization.”
Yankovich emphasized that he personally did not agree with the online response critical of the raffle. “As a parent of five kids, with one in high school and one in junior high, I, in no way, have come to the conclusion that a gun raffle is going to promote violence,” he said.
A series of raffles in recent years by schools, churches and other youth sports organizations nationwide have offered firearms as prizes as a means to raise money, often resulting in criticism over the messaging it sends to young people. The Smith & Wesson M&P-15, one of the types of firearms scheduled to be raffled off for the Colts, had been used in multiple mass shootings in recent years, including in Aurora, Colo., San Bernardino, Calif., and Parkland, Fla.
One of the raffle’s sponsors, Cap City Outfitters, a firearms and gun preparedness store in Hilliard, declined to comment. The other, Shoot Point Blank, an indoor shooting range in the Columbus suburb, was unavailable for comment.
The online debate started shortly after the raffle’s prizes were announced in late January, with some critics describing the organization’s need to justify the gun raffle as “appalling.” Several of the people who defended the organization’s right to raffle off guns for a youth baseball team said there was nothing illegal about the initiative, adding that the transfer of the guns to the winner would be done with proper paperwork and background checks.
One mother, who claimed that her 12-year-old son on the team owned two guns that he bought with his own money, said her boy was excited about the prospect of winning the top prize — and that he had sold more than 80 tickets in just two days.
“When I talked to him about this he said . . . ‘I’ll sell a lot!!!’” the mother wrote. “This is way better than selling candy bars or Super Bowl squares.”
But others saw the raffle as the wrong message to send to 11- and 12-year-old boys. One concerned resident even challenged the parents to try to explain this to the parents of victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the site of a 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., why the gun raffle was a good idea.
When Hamlin initially reached out to Yankovich last week about the raffle, the commissioner, in an email obtained by The Post, replied, “While it may not have been the option I would have chosen for a fundraiser, the fact of the matter is that the fundraiser is being done in a completely legal manner.”
“A lot of fundraisers held violate somebody’s moral beliefs,” Yankovich said. “That does not necessarily make the fundraiser in and of itself wrong.”
The news in Hilliard continues a trend in which organizations are attempting to raffle off firearms more frequently. In 2017, just one week after a gunman opened fire at a country music festival in Las Vegas, killing at least 58 people and wounding about 500, a church raffle in Oxford, Miss., featured the grand prize of two AR-15 rifles, The Post’s Amy B Wang reported. The Oasis Church of All Nations was criticized but stood by its raffle benefiting those fighting drug addiction, saying, “There would never be a right time to raffle any firearm.”
In 2018, a youth baseball league in Canton, Ohio, about 130 miles northeast of Hilliard, raffled off guns, including an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, to help reduce registration fees. “We tried the candy bars. We tried scotch doubles. We tried carwashes in the past; they just didn’t generate very much attention,” the league’s president told FOX8.
And in New Richmond, Ohio, last year, less than a month after a mass shooting in Dayton, cheerleaders as young as 4 years old were asked to sell raffle tickets for a youth football league that featured an AM-15 semiautomatic rifle as the top prize, The Post’s Kayla Epstein reported.
Michelle Vroom, who lives in Hilliard and has older children who participated in travel sports teams, said the idea of a youth baseball team selling gun raffle tickets “trivializes a national crisis.”
“These boys are 12 and 13. They haven’t had the opportunity to grow up and create their own beliefs or formalize their own opinions about gun laws,” Vroom said to The Post. She added, “Asking a child to peddle tickets for a deadly weapon is beyond irresponsible.”
Yankovich said Saturday’s raffle will now include a Visa gift card, electronics or “something of that nature.”
“People who had already bought a ticket can have their money back or it will be transferred to the new raffle that does not include a firearm,” he said.