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June 11, 2003, 10:00 a.m.
Bad Sports
A church turns down $10,000 from sportsmen.

By John R. Lott Jr.

When should a modest local church turn down $10,000 a year for sports activities that help keep children off the streets and out of gangs? Apparently, that will happen this coming Saturday when the money is raised by the Catholic Sportsmen's Organization by raffling off a shotgun.

John Aquilino wanted to do something to replace the tattered uniforms of the Hyattsville, Maryland Catholic Youth Organization sports teams. New basketball uniforms hadn't been purchased for nine years. The blue-collar area also had numerous other pressing problems: The convent roof was leaking, the parochial school was recently fined $4,000 for faulty fire doors, and the school's carpet was decrepit. Unfortunately, ordinary raffles for things like the sports teams were only raising about a couple hundred dollars.

Yet, with St. Jerome's Catholic Church located only a ten-minute or so trip from the Prince George's County Trap and Skeet Center, Aquilino hit upon the idea of shooting contests and a gun raffle each year on the Saturday before Father's Day. It has been a roaring success, raising thousands of dollars just its first year. New uniforms were purchased and money was provided for new carpeting at the school.

Opponents of the raffle and skeet shoot sprang up as soon as the idea was discussed. Aquilino offered opponents a challenge to see whether their approaches would raise as much money. One woman answered the challenge and set up bingo contests (and in the spirit of friendly competition, the "gun nuts" helped her out a lot a long the way). Starting three years ago, right when the Catholic Sportsmen's Organization started, she has raised about a quarter of the money raised by the sportsmen. But this was a contest where everyone won. As Aquilino said, "I think that it is great, that is $8,000 [raised by the bingo games] the kids didn't have."

To Peggy Alexander, a former member of the church, "it's a moral issue. It's about putting more guns out on the street. It's against the life-affirming doctrine of that the Catholic Church preaches." So far the winners of the raffle during the first three years hardly fit that dangerous image: a choir master at a neighboring parish, a 70-year-old mother of one of the people who helps out at the church, and the general counsel for NASA.

Surely no one wants criminals to get guns. But few criminals participate in church fundraisers or pass background checks and the evidence is that with over two million defensive guns uses each year, guns are used at least four times more frequently to stop crime than they are used to commit crime. The most vulnerable in our society, those are weaker physically such as women and the elderly as well as poor people (particularly blacks) who are most likely the victims of violent crime, benefit the most from owning guns. Police are extremely important in stopping (my own research indicates that they are the single most important factor), but they understand that they can't be everywhere all the time and that they almost always arrive on the scene after the crime has been committed. The Catholic Church clearly recognizes the right of self defense, and telling people to behave passively also turns out not to be very safe advice.

Unfortunately, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, has tried to stop the raffles and skeet shoots. The cardinal decided that the sportsmen's group could only raise money for the church as long as it was not "related in any way to the use or sale of guns."

This hasn't satisfied opponents, who worry that some of the "tainted money" could still find its way into church coffers. They also complain that the "Sportsmen's group members wear t-shirts with gun images to church events."

The media hasn't missed the chance to paint gun owners as uncaring cavemen. The Washington Post paints the disagreement as being between "some people [who] cannot get beyond their fascination with guns and some people [who] actually believe the words of their faith's commandments." That good intentions might be on both sides never seems to have crossed liberal minds.

— John Lott, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of the newly released book, The Bias Against Guns.

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