A group of third graders in Missouri has been asked to sell raffle tickets for an AR-15 military-style assault weapon after a similar gun was used in a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Community baseball team coach Levi Patterson told The Kansas City Star that the decision to sell raffle tickets was made before the shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The weapon was reportedly donated by the co-founder of Black Rain Ordnance Inc., who is the father of one of the players.
Patterson told the paper that he initially considered raffling a different item after the mass shooting, but he changed his mind after receiving criticism from what he called a "hate group" on Facebook. After that, Patterson said that he decided to turn the AR-15 raffle "into a positive thing."
But Patterson later admitted that he did not know if the messages on Facebook came from a "hate group."
"I applaud them for standing up for what they believe in. I just think they have feelings to this specific type of gun (that are) different than people around here do,” he insisted.
In a response to his Facebook critics, Patterson wrote that “gun raffles have been going on for years. Evil has and will always exist. Our hearts break for those involved, and we do not take that lightly.”
He also offered a defense of the AR-15 as a legal gun, insisting that it was not a "killing machine."
Patterson said that the children on his team, who are between 7 and 9 years old, would not be forced to sell the raffle tickets.
“We appreciate your ‘concern’ but please understand, we are not, have not, and will not force one of our boys to sell raffle tickets for the Black Rain AR15 Spec 15, if they are uncomfortable doing so,” he wrote on Facebook.