Gun raffles are major revenue sources for some nonprofit organizations and volunteer fire departments, but a bill introduced in the state Legislature could prohibit the events.
Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, a Brooklyn Democrat, introduced the measure that would ban gun raffles. Twenty-nine of Simon's Assembly colleagues, all Democrats and nearly all of whom represent downstate districts, cosponsored the legislation.
Under New York state law, it is legal to hold gun raffles and to award firearms in a game of chance. Simon's bill would end the practice.
"Firearms should not be raffled off in this manner," Simon wrote in the sponsor's memo. "Firearm-related violence is a significant public health and safety problem and weapons should not be given away in games of chance."
Many organizations, especially in upstate, hold gun raffles to generate revenue. In Cayuga County, the Aurelius Volunteer Fire Department holds an annual gun raffle to raise money for equipment purchases and other expenses.
Kevin Foster, a captain with the Aurelius Volunteer Fire Department, explained that gun raffles and other fundraisers are necessary because of the property tax cap. The cap limits property tax levy growth to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.
"Our fire department has had several gun raffles over the years along with chicken barbecues and other creative ways to raise funds," Foster said. "Perhaps (Gov. Andrew Cuomo) could find a way to legislate our cost of providing fire protection — insurance, firefighting equipment, apparatus, cancer coverage and other unfunded mandates — to our residents at 2 percent, then our need to fundraise could be lessened."
Other organizations have generated revenues from gun raffles. The Magee Fire Department in Seneca County collects roughly $15,000 from its annual gun raffle, according to Chief Craig Reynolds. Waterloo Rifle & Pistol Club raises $10,000 to $12,000 each year from its gun raffle.
Bill McGuire, who owns Interlaken Guns & Ammo, said the proposed gun raffle ban is misleading. McGuire's store assists organizations with gun raffles. Claiming a prize from a gun raffle, he said, isn't different than buying a firearm at a retailer.
A winner at a gun raffle must submit to a federal background check before being permitted to collect the firearm. Under New York law, you must be age 18 or older to purchase a long gun and at least 21 years old to buy a handgun.
McGuire noted that anyone with a criminal record wouldn't be allowed to receive a firearm won at a raffle.
"Passing a law such as (Simon's bill) will hurt organizations that rely on the proceeds of these raffles for their yearly budgets," McGuire said. "Also, there are many organizations that will use portions of these proceeds for charitable purposes."
With Democrats controlling both houses of the state Legislature, gun safety has been a priority. In January, the state Assembly and Senate passed six gun control measures.
The legislative package included a "red flag" proposal, which would allow family members, law enforcement and school administrators to ask a judge to temporarily remove guns from an individual if they are deemed to be a risk to themselves or others.
The bills also banned bump stocks, prohibited schools from allowing teachers and staff to carry firearms on school grounds and imposes a 30-day waiting period for gun purchases to be completed if a background check is inconclusive.
Simon's bill hasn't advanced in the state Assembly. As of Friday, there isn't a similar bill in the state Senate.
State Sen. Pam Helming, a Canandaigua Republican, is among those who oppose the proposed gun raffle ban. She believes the measure is more of a political manuever than an attempt to improve public safety.
"People across New York enjoy attending these events and supporting local service organizations," Helming said. "We need to protect their right to do so, and I urge members of the public to share their thoughts with the sponsor of this legislation."