The union representing Janesville police officers is raffling off an AR-15, a type of semi-automatic rifle that has been used in several mass shootings in recent years.
Raffling off a firearm is perfectly legal, but the move has set off negative comments that detract from the raffle’s purpose, said officer Justin Stubbendick, union spokesman.
Stubbendick said it’s unfortunate that attention has been diverted from the two beneficiaries of the raffle, a local 3-year-old, Isaac Johnson, who suffers from an aggressive childhood cancer called neuroblastoma, and a former Department of Corrections agent in Rock County, Jeremy Jorgensen, who was diagnosed in December with an aggressive brain cancer.
Also being raffled are a Glock 17 handgun, a Remington 870 shotgun, a Viktos tactical clothing kit and a $50 Sam’s Club gift card.
All the weapons are the kind that many in law enforcement use on the job, Stubbendick noted, and the raffle was publicized in law enforcement circles, although anyone can buy a $10 ticket.
Stubbendick said anyone who wins a firearm will have to undergo a background check as the weapons are on order at Top Pack Defense in Sun Prairie, which is required by law to background-check purchasers.
The union raffled off a Glock 19 handgun last year for the first time to help the family of a Janesville officer whose daughter suffered from cancer, Stubbendick said.
The current raffle was set up before the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, when 17 died, Stubbendick said.
The union discussed after the shooting whether to pull the AR-15, he said, but the raffle had already started.
“We decided, based on the cause and things we had in place, that we were going to continue on with it,” he said.
Union officials will consider different raffle items next year because such weapons are a hot-button topic, Stubbendick said.
The AR-15-type rifles figured in more than just the Parkland shooting. They were used in the shootings in Las Vegas; San Bernardino, California; and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, for example.
A gun-control advocate contacted by The Gazette suggested there are better ways to promote good causes.
“Just because something is legal does not mean that it’s not in some ways awful,” said David Chipman, senior policy adviser for the Giffords Law Center and a former agent for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“I think our law enforcement understands that a background check alone does not prevent many people who could be a danger to the public from actually getting the gun, and cops know best that to be true,” he said.
The Giffords Law Center advocates for the banning of assault weapons for civilian use.
Stubbendick said the Janesville Professional Police Association takes no stand on whether the AR-15 should be banned.
Chipman credited the union for making sure the transfer of the rifle goes through a gun dealer, but he said: “In this environment, raffling off a gun that was used to kill 17 kids (and adults) in Parkland, dozens of churchgoers in Texas and even more at a concert in Las Vegas, to me, is tone deaf.”
A civilian with an AR-15 also shot and wounded the shooter in the 2017 church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The JPPA is not the first police union to raffle off an AR-15.
The Rosendale, New York, Police Benevolent Association called off a similar raffle soon after the Parkland massacre, according to news reports.
Last fall, the police union in Melrose Park, Illinois, raffled off an AR-15, even though the village had banned possession of the gun there four years earlier, the Chicago Sun Times reported.
The local raffle drawing is set for May 12 at Sam’s Club in Janesville. Those whose names are picked can choose any of the prizes, so there is no top prize or second-place prize, Stubbendick said.
Those who don’t want to participate are not obliged to do so, Stubbendick pointed out, and those who simply want to help Isaac and Jeremy can do so without buying raffle tickets, as some have done.
Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore noted the police department has nothing to do with the raffle.
“I want to make it very clear that it is not a police department weapon,” Moore said.
Moore noted the officers have the constitutional rights to free association and free speech.
“I’m very respectful of people’s opinions,” Stubbendick said. “Some people are upset by this. It’s one of those things; there has to be a conversation about it. But this raffle is not about whether an AR-15 should be owned.”