At Hobgood Academy in rural Halifax County, N.C., school officials expect to net about $23,000 instead of the hoped-for $4,000 from a week-long gun raffle held Dec. 6-10.

The event was a smashing success as gun advocates snapped up 2,500 tickets for $10 each—despite criticism that schools and guns are a bad mix.

Doug Abernathy, owner of Doug’s Guns in Williamston, which supplied the five guns at their $1,800 cost, said when it comes to fund-raising, bake sales and barbecues can’t hold a candle to guns in a hunting area.

“This being a strong sporting community, any time you give anybody a chance to win a firearm, then obviously, Bubba’s willing to shell out five or 10 dollars,” said Abernathy, who has supplied guns for other raffles.

The 306-student, K-12 private school raffled off one shotgun or rifle every day for a week. The money will help pay for a Future Farmers of America building erected last summer and will buy saws, machinery, and other equipment, Hobgood Headmaster John Hardison said.

Ticket sales exploded when a syndicated columnist and editor of a hunting, fishing, and boating publication posted information about the sale to a few internet gun advocate groups. The columnist, Fred Bonner, also eMailed information to hunting friends across the country.

People from all over the United States, including Alaska, bought tickets. Some included notes of support, which the school has since thrown away, Hardison said.

“They were just supporting our raffle,” he said. “They felt like it was a worthy cause with the FFA. And they were supporting our right to do this.”

Not everyone agrees, however. Critics say the raffles send the wrong message.

“To me, it’s a judgment situation and it’s the wrong climate and the wrong timing to be promoting that,” said Ronald Stevens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, Calif. The group works to prevent crime and violence on school campuses.

Lisa Price, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence Education Fund, said the raffle is inappropriate and insensitive, especially because of Columbine and other school shootings. Pam Riley, director of the Raleigh-based Center for the Prevention of School Violence, also questioned the message the raffle sends.

Criticism of school gun raffles intensified when a sixth-grade student won a $200 shotgun in a Louisiana raffle held Dec. 2 to raise money for cheerleader uniforms. The school’s principal said that excessive publicity may bring an end to the practice.

But Eugene Fitzgerald of Goodpine Middle School, about 170 miles northwest of New Orleans in rural LaSalle Parish, made no apologies.

“We here at the school live in a rural area where hunting is a very popular sport, and we were trying to save the parents money on cheerleader uniforms,” Fitzgerald said.

Though the drawing was held Dec. 2, local media didn’t get wind of it until Dec. 6, the same day a seventh-grader at a school in Fort Gibson, Okla., opened fire on a crowd of students waiting for the morning bell. Four students were injured in the latest in a string of often-fatal high school shootings nationwide.

“I’m the first one to tell you we sympathize with the victims,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t advocate school violence at all. You take the incident in Oklahoma, but it wasn’t a gun, it was a child. He was a sick individual. The last thing I would want to do is add more hurt to that situation.”

Winner Keon Jackson’s parents will be responsible for the gun and it will be given to them after they sign the necessary paperwork and undergo a background check, Fitzgerald said.

He wouldn’t release the names of Keon’s parents, but said like most parents of children at Goodpine, they saw nothing wrong with raffling off the shotgun.

“They said, ‘We’re happy this was going on,'” Fitzgerald said. “You have pros and cons about guns. I have pros and cons about people. People are the problem, not guns.”

Fitzgerald said he had no doubt the prized shotgun would be used for hunting and that children in the area understand the danger of guns.

Abernathy concurred. “The anti-gunners, they just see it as horrible that in any way, a school could have anything to do with firearms,” he said.

Abernathy said people in eastern North Carolina, a mainly rural area, view guns differently than residents of more urban areas.

“There’s a strong, responsible gun culture in our country,” he said. “Anybody not exposed to this does form negative conclusions. Those who grew up with it pounded in our heads—safe, responsible gun ownership—we see no problem with it.”

Hobgood Academy’s Hardison said the raffled guns never were stored at the school. Abernathy will keep them until winners clear the required background checks, he said.

The school, which has operated for 30 years, raffled guns several years ago, Hardison said. He didn’t recall how much the school made on that raffle, other than “not a lot.”

This one attracted interest—and criticism—only because the world outside Halifax County has changed, he said. n