Rich Kremer

Wisconsin Public Radio

Barron County's Emergency Services Department is raising money for first responders by raffling off hunting rifles, including one patterned off of the popular AR-15 rifle.

The raffle features four guns commonly known as varmint rifles, which are used to hunt animals like coyotes. Three are bolt-action rifles but the fourth is a semi-automatic Remington R-15, which is a slight variation of the AR-15. Many recent mass shootings, including the one that killed 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, were perpetrated by shooters using AR-15 variant rifles.

Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said the raffle was started more than a month ago, but he says the optics aren't great.

"This doesn’t look good, and it’s not the best idea in the world, but it was going on prior to this talk, and we need to honor the people that have bought squares and finish it out and try to raise money to improve our new first responders in the county," said Fitzgerald.

A Facebook post advertising the gun raffle was made by Barron County's Emergency Services Director Mike Judy on March 1, and the post was shared by the sheriff's department's Facebook page. The sheriff's depFitzgerald said it's a challenge to fundraise in northwestern Wisconsin, and these rifles were specifically chosen because they're popular hunting rifles. Proceeds will go toward the purchase of supplies and equipment for a newly created countywide network of first responders.

But gun violence advocate Jeri Bonavia of Wisconsin Anti Violence Effort, or WAVE, said raffling an AR-15 type rifle so soon after a mass shooting is an example of bad judgment.

"It shows that they are being tone deaf," said Bonavia. "They aren’t listening to what the conversation that the students from parkland Florida really got started in our country."

WAVE has advocated since 1996 for stronger gun laws in Wisconsin and across the United States, they've advocated for the creation of special protective orders, which would allow law enforcement to temporarily take guns from individuals who are reportedly threatening to harm themselves or others.

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