Organizations raffle guns to raise money for high school athletics

At least three Baton Rouge area sports organizations have created a surefire way to raise money — raffling guns.

The Walker High School Athletic Booster Club, the Zachary-based Legendz Sports Academy, and the 300 Spartan Athletic Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports East Ascension High School in Gonzales, are hosting raffles in which participants can buy a $50 raffle ticket for the chance to win a gun.

The Walker club and Legendz have held the raffles in recent years and will hold one again in 2014. The 300 Spartan Athletic Foundation’s first raffle is underway this year.

The raffles for the three groups are identical. They are offering 52 guns — one raffled for each week of the year. Winning ticket numbers match Louisiana Lottery Pick 3 numbers.

Officials from all three groups, though, say they take every precaution necessary when raffling off the firearms.

All three groups require their winners to pick up the guns from local stores. They have to fill out an application and go through a background check before they can walk out with their prize.

The groups offer only hunting rifles and shotguns through their raffles — no handguns or assault-style weapons.

For the Walker club, winners claim their guns at Bass Pro Shop in Denham Springs — assuming they pass the background check.

Derk Lockhart, president of the Walker High School Athletic Booster Club, said one 2012 winner applied for a gun but wasn’t approved.

Lockhart said officials did not tell the club why the application failed.

“We just said (to the winner), that’s part of the process,” he said. “You don’t qualify, you don’t qualify.”

Lockhart said the club decided to host the raffle after hearing about other groups in Louisiana, as well as states across the nation, doing the same thing.

The club raised about $27,000 in 2012, Lockhart said, all of which goes back to supporting the school’s athletic programs, including buying uniforms or equipment.

Lockhart said the club has not received grief from anybody about raffling guns as part of what ultimately amounts to a school-associated function, even though the club is a private organization. He said club officials approached the school’s principal and the school board for their OK.

Lockhart said club officials believe the raffle is ethical because it is dedicated solely to raise money for the school’s athletic programs.

“I think we weighed all our options when we did it,” he said. “When you really look at all those things, it doesn’t add up to anything bad to me.”

Walker High School Principal Jason St. Pierre said he thought it was fine for the booster club to hold a gun raffle, noting that the club is completely separate from the school.

“They have to go through the background checks and everything else,” he said. “And the community enjoys it.”

John Watson, Livingston Parish Public Schools superintendent, said he was not aware of any school system rules regulating what a school-affiliated booster club can raffle.

Watson also noted that the booster club is a private organization.

“There were never any weapons on campus,” Watson said. “It is a booster club. It is not Walker High School.”

Louisiana High School Athletic Association officials declined to comment about the raffle, saying a raffle held by a private organization does not fall under its jurisdiction.

Legendz Sports Academy, a youth and club sports organization in Zachary, has its raffle sponsored by Bowie Outfitters, according to a flier posted on the group’s Facebook page.

Legendz, like the Walker club, asks a local vendor to house the guns and make winners pass an application process to receive their firearms.

No Legendz raffle winner has ever failed an application, said John Stagg, the group’s vice president.

Stagg said Legendz heard of the idea from an Opelousas school and from junior colleges around the nation.

Stagg said the organization has never received grief about the raffle because all parties involved understand the winners will use the weapons solely for hunting — in an area where hunting is popular.

“About 90 to 95 percent of our members, males and females, probably go hunting with their fathers or grandfathers or dad or brother or somebody in their family,” he said. “It’s something popular with the people in the area.”

Troy Gautreau Sr., a board member of the 300 Spartan Athletic Foundation, said the nonprofit foundation partners with Academy Sports for its raffle.

The 300 Spartan Athletic Foundation raises money to help the athletic programs at East Ascension High School and its feeder schools.

The foundation offers a gun a week but gives the winners an Academy Sports gift card in the exact amount of the gun offered. The winners usually, but don’t always, buy a gun, Gautreau said.

“What they do with that gift card is up to them,” he said.

Winners who choose to buy a gun must then go through Academy Sports’ application process, which includes a background check, Gautreau said.

Gautreau said the foundation heard a few rumblings at first about the raffle because of gun control uproar fueled from media speculation about mass shootings. But since then, nothing much.

“There’s a lot of hunters in south Louisiana,” he said. “It was kind of a different demographic that we were able to hit. The tickets were selling themselves.”

Holley Haymaker, a local gun control advocate in Baton Rouge, said it sounds like the groups have done their homework when it comes to making the raffles safe.

But Haymaker said she’d like to see the organizations package the guns with gun safes or gun safety courses so the winners know — assuming they don’t know already — how to handle the firearms.

Haymaker said she supports Louisiana’s hunting culture but is worried about the message the groups are sending to children.

“They ought to do the whole package with it,” she said. “Then they could send a really effective message to the kids.”