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Editorial: ‘Month of guns’? Is this a joke?

Want a gun? Need a gun? Step right up. For just $30 you can buy a ticket that could make you the lucky winner of a handgun or assault rifle. May is the “Month of Guns,” and remember, the money goes to a good cause.

It’s usually governors and legislators who embarrass the state and draw national attention. Meldrim Thomson with his proposal to give New Hampshire’s National Guard nuclear weapons; Craig Benson driving his yellow Hummer to Concord and parking it next to the State House on Earth Day; two high state officials forced to take refuge in a locked office to escape a pack of lawmakers infuriated over the appearance of President Obama’s name on the ballot. This time, however, it’s that otherwise worthy organization, the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.

To raise money in the past, the organization has organized golf tournaments, trade shows and runs, but recently its leaders decided to sell 1,000 tickets and raffle off 31 guns made in New Hampshire. The money raised by the raffle will support the state’s Police Cadet Training Academy, which gives young people interested in law enforcement a chance to experience a bit of what police recruits go through. Tickets for the gun drawings, which will be held in May, went on sale in October and sold out.

From a public relations standpoint, as some police chiefs have pointed out, the plan was never a good one. It’s one thing for a sporting club to raffle off a gun, quite another for law enforcement officials to raise money by putting guns in the hands of members of the public, including perhaps people with no training in how to handle and use them. But that was before the horrific massacre at the Newtown, Conn., elementary school. The public’s attention has been focused yet again on the carnage created when a powerful weapon finds its way into the wrong hands. Yesterday, in hopes of reducing the death toll, the president and vice president appeared on national TV to discuss gun violence and mental illness. President Obama then signed an executive order calling for actions that include a reinstatement of the Clinton-era ban on assault weapons and magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.

Two of the guns the chiefs are raffling off are “assault-style” weapons. Assault weapons are popular; they are used in a fully-automatic form by the military and in video games. They are very accurate, very macho and, while unnecessary for hunting or home defense, fun to shoot. They fire a bullet with every flex of the finger and can, with adaptation, be made to continue to fire as long as the shooter holds his finger in a position that allows the returning trigger to bump against it. The guns being raffled are less powerful than the weapon used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings but still capable of accepting high-capacity clips and firing rapidly with deadly effect. They are guns that almost certainly would be illegal if the ban were restored.

Don’t get us wrong. Banning assault weapons won’t put and end to mass shootings, but it could reduce both their frequency and the number of casualties. There have already been several mass murders since Newtown. The national debate over gun control has resumed with a vengeance. The old arguments will be repeated. Law enforcement is divided. Some members oppose an assault weapon ban. Others see one as important for the protection of the public and police officers alike. In this environment, for a police chiefs association to hold a “Month of Guns” fundraising raffle is black humor worthy of notice by The Daily Show and Colbert Report.

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