Flyers announcing that an assault rifle would be raffled off at a fundraiser for Astronaut High School seniors provoked worry and confusion for some parents, and glowing support for others over the weekend as news of the prize spread.
The ArmaLite-style assault rifle was among the items being advertised in the Project Graduation raffle. The news sparked some parents to ask how raffling a military-style firearm for a school-related function would be appropriate given deadly mass shootings that have taken place at schools over the years.
“Just what are we teaching our kids? That guns are OK? Absolutely are NOT OK. This is why people are dying like flies so easily,” Kiyah Edwards said on a local news Facebook page. Another person on the thread, Kate Perez, likened it to raffling off alcohol and cigarettes.
Still, overwhelmingly, many parents on social media expressed support for the raffle and said it was an example of people exercising their Second Amendment rights.
“How weak have we become? When I was in school we had a gun rack with a gun in it in my truck at school and JROTC used live ammo in the rifle range,” said Paul Vaccaro.
Brevard Public Schools officials have told the fundraiser organizers not to use Astronaut High in their promotional material because the school isn’t allowed to organize a raffle, and because the prize is controversial, said BPS spokesman Russell Bruhn.
“We did direct them to say you can’t have AHS on any type of raffle no matter what,” Bruhn said. “We also directed them to pull down any ads that might make people think the district is part of this.”
Bruhn said that Project Graduation was an independent non-profit that was not officially associated with the school or district and that they could raise funds however they saw fit. But, he added, they cannot use AHS or BPS to promote their efforts.
“We don’t want our school name associated with the raffle,” Bruhn said. “We would be doing this even if there were no gun, but we’re also a no-gun zone, of course.”
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The raffle also comes several years after Astronaut High averted what was described as a Parkland-style shooting.
Two students in 2017 were found to have had the “clear ability” to carry out an attack on the school with an arsenal that one of them had hidden in his bedroom. According to police, their stockpile included .22-caliber rifles, a .380 pistol, loaded magazines, homemade axes, knives and machetes as well as improvised gas masks and bulletproof vests. The plot was uncovered when police were tipped off by someone who knew what the students were planning.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, raffling a firearm is legal as long as the winner is subject to the proper background check and completion of ATF paperwork.
As long as the normal legal processes for transferring or selling the weapon are followed, the raffle would be legal, according to the ATF website.
Future raffles that may involve a firearm should still not feature school names in Brevard County, according to Bruhn.
A Project Graduation organizer did not return a request for comment as of Monday afternoon.