Aiming to raise $30,000 to compete in a national tournament in Florida, the Uintah Ute Hockey Team this month raffled off an assault rifle similar to the semi-automatic weapon reportedly used in the Sandy Hook school massacre.
Sponsored by Vernal sporting goods store Basin Sports, the raffle was publicized with an image of the AR-15 .223-caliber gun. Tickets for the April 4 drawing cost $10.
"People are wanting [the rifle] because we live in a rural community where hunting and shooting is a way of life," said Shirley Slaugh, whose son is the goalie for the team. She added: "Whoever wins does not have to take the rifle," noting the winner received a gift certificate for the value of the gun, around $700.
The team hit their fundraising goal and attended the USA Hockey High School National Championships in Coral Springs, Fla., on March 20-24. Slaugh could not immediately identify the raffle winner. The Basin Sports manager could not be reached for comment.
Raffle organizers said they saw no connection between the auction and recent shootings that have thrust gun control back into national and local debate, such as Sandy Hook and the theater killings in Aurora, Colo.
The Uintah Ute Hockey Team is part of a club team under the Ashley Valley Amateur Hockey Association.
Uintah schools Superintendent Mark Dockins emphasized that the hockey team is not a part of the district.
"It's unfortunate that they did a raffle for an assault rifle," Dockins said.
Rodney Anderson, a physician and Uintah school board member, said he did not know about this particular raffle, but it did not surprise him.
"I have entered lots of raffles for firearms, not from the school, from various local organizations," Anderson said. "There's raffles all the time for guns and stuff."
Last month, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed a controversial bill that would have allowed people to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.
The sponsor of HB76, Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, has repeatedly said the bill was simply a protection for ranchers who might find themselves in violation of the law by accidentally covering a gun while putting on a raincoat.
The raffle "was not meant to take lightly the shootings around the country," Slaugh said. "It's a totally different way of life [in Vernal]. We enjoy hunting."
He added: "We're not handing the gun to the winner, it's a gift certificate, they can get whatever they choose to use it for."
Zack Gondek, who graduated from Uintah High School in 1999, said when his friend posted the Vernal raffle announcement on her Facebook page in Connecticut, it was deleted for being offensive.
"I have nothing against guns but an assault rifle for a school team, I think, crosses the line and is distasteful," Gondek said. "Whatever happened to auctioning off a TV or travel vacation?"
Fred Wilner, board president of Utah Amateur Hockey, said he was surprised by the rifle raffle, but "guns are legal in Utah." Both Wilner and Steve Gunn, of the Gun Violence Prevention Center in Salt Lake City ,said they have not heard of other rifle raffles in Utah.
"I've never heard of such a thing and it seems to me to be in poor taste," Gunn said. "The sponsors of the raffle could have chosen a better prize than one associated with the massacre in Connecticut. It just didn't show good judgement in my estimation."
Guns used at Sandy Hook
On March 28, state police warrants connected to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. were released. They provided new details about the attack by Adam Lanza and the guns he used.
The "Bushmaster .223 caliber model XM15 rifle" named in warrants is not essentially different from the "AR-15" named in news reports since the Dec. 14 shootings, according to Tom O'Neill, co-owner of TGS Outdoors of Branford, Conn.
"It's just a different model number but they both fire the same rounds, they're both civilian versions and semi-automatic," O'Neill said.
AR-15 is the original model number for the magazine-fed gun that was first built by ArmaLite of Illinois. AR "simply stands for ArmaLite rifle" and "XM15 would be Bushmaster's model number" for the weapon, O'Neill said. "If you put them side by side most people couldn't tell the difference."
While "AR" has become a generic term for the weapon, it's actually the model originally made by ArmaLite. "Too many people misuse AR because they think AR stands for 'assault rifle.' It does not," O'Neill said.
The semi-automatic rifle is made in both military and civilian versions; the military version is the M-16. The rifle Lanza used on Dec. 14 to kill 26 students and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a civilian version.
ArmaLite sold the patent to Colt Manufacturing Co., O'Neill said.
Ed Stannard, the New Haven Register