(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) With all the debate on guns following the latest school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, a St. Joseph youth baseball team is raffling off an AR-15 rifle as part of a fundraiser.
The AR-15 is the same rifle that was used in the Florida massacre that killed 17 people.
The fundraiser is for the St. Joseph Stars baseball team and began before the tragic shooting happened. However, one local citizen said the team should still rethink raffling off the weapon.
"The fact that it's a weapon that is being raffled off, I think that is problematic," Melinda Kovacs, Persisterhood of St. Joseph member, said. "It saddens me deeply that it probably took the massacre in Florida for us to even be talking about how come these youth baseball teams are raffling off these weapons."
Persisterhood of St. Joseph organized a walk on March 24th as part of the "March For Our Lives" national movement against gun violence.
Kovacs said she's worried about the message fundraisers like this send to children.
"We have this understanding that raffles are for things that are valuable, that are desirable. And I think that the message that the children are getting very loud and clear is that this [AR-15 rifle] is a valuable, desirable commodity," Kovacs said.
The Stars baseball team did not want to go on camera, but instead issued the following statement:
"Unfortunately, we are not interested in getting involved in this political debate. This is our 4th year conducting the raffle and both the $1000 cash prize as well as the gun are offered due to public demand/requests. The money is used to help cover expenses such as tournaments and uniforms."
The team also mentioned if the winner of the raffle chooses the rifle, he/she would have to go through a licensed dealer and follow all federal and state laws to obtain the gun.
This type of fundraiser is happening in areas across the state. Youth sports team in Neosho and Webb City are also raffling off AR-15s as part of a team fundraiser.
The mayor of Neosho, Ben Baker, spoke out in favor of the fundraiser.
"The AR-15 is light, it's accurate, it's perfect for hunting, my children know how to shoot an AR-15, uh they're familiar with it, it's the perfect weapon for hunting, sporting," Baker said.
The Stars baseball team added in their statement, "The prize is completely up to the winner and we do not have a preference in what they choose. We appreciate all members of the communities who support our team, regardless of their political views."
However, some feel the timing is not right for a fundraising event like this.
"Even if you feel that you are within your right to carry on with whatever you planned, you have the path where you can choose to feel empathy," Kovacs said. "To feel for those who have lost people."
A winner for the fundraiser will be chosen on March 4th.