(ATWOOD, Ill.) — An Illinois Little League insists there is no political agenda behind its fundraiser raffling off an AR-15 rifle.
Owners of Atwood Armory and the Atwood-Hammond Little League Atwood, Ill., came under media scrutiny in the past week following the start of their AR-15 raffle to raise funds for the financially struggling Little League.
Some media outlets have reported that the rifle is similar to the one used in Newtown, Conn., in December when 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The Little League’s commissioner, Steven McClain, 33, denied that it was the same type of gun and said he did not factor in the Newtown massacre into his decision to raffle the gun.
“I have kids. Every board member of the league has kids,” he told ABC News. “I’m deeply saddened about what happened. But we don’t believe it’s the gun’s fault.”
Despite the gun’s reputation, McClain said, “We’re not afraid to make a political statement, but that’s not what this is designed for.”
The Little League, which receives no money from the village or state, has relied on raffles to finance its equipment and facilities. When a hog raffle in November raised only $10, the league’s board sought out the armory, which was looking for a new non-profit organization to sponsor.
“We do a fundraiser here every quarter for our business,” Charidy Butcher, owner of the Atwood Armory, told ABC News.
When the Atwood Armory posted on its Facebook page looking for a new cause, McClain, a gun enthusiast and friend of the gun shop, suggested the Little League, which is in need of a new baseball diamond and better-fitting gear.
The gun up for grabs is a Rock River Arms tactical operator 2, which, along with the 260 rounds of ammunition included in the raffle, has a retail value of more than $2,000.
Butcher, who has two children in the league’s t-ball division, said that her store only has two of the sought-after rifles. The other rifle is being raffled in the armory’s fundraiser for the Camden Foundation, which has raised $8,000 so far.
“We looked at a couple other guns, a semi-automatic shotgun and a handgun,” McClain said.
But when the armory offered the extremely hard-to-find AR-15 and cited its possibility to generate money for the league, “We immediately jumped on it,” he said.
Within two days, the Little League’s raffle has raised $2,000 from ticket sales alone. The drawing for the raffle is June 29.
“I have had several people call in [saying], ‘Can we send a monetary donation to you?’ The response has been amazing,” Butcher said.
Both Butcher and McClain agreed that the Atwood community response has been positive, with raffle entries coming from as far as Alaska.
Atwood is a small town where, McClain said, every member of the Little League board is a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card holder.
While McClain has not heard any negative feedback from the league’s parents, McClain is frustrated by the media’s response.
“People from the media keep asking the same question, ‘Is this tasteless?’ I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s all about the kids. That’s the reason why it was done.”
If McClain could have anticipated the media reaction, would he still have chosen the same gun? “Absolutely. Without hesitation,” he said.
Anyone can enter by buying a $20 raffle ticket, and the winner must have a FOID card and pass a background check.
McClain said the league will even be paying for the winner to take a firearm safety course “no matter where this gun goes.”
“That way, there’s absolutely no chance that the person doesn’t know what they’re doing,” McClain said.
What will the Little League do with its new funds?
“We’re not looking to have a big stadium or anything built,” McClain said. “We’re just trying to get up to a satisfactory level good enough for the kids….I would love to see the kids have a good enough facility and equipment to get the kids excited to get off the couch and play.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Eric Schulzke, Deseret News
Pilar Melendez, CNN Newswire