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3 Straight Shooters Do Their Part for the Children

Times Staff Writer

In years past, the Hanna Springs Intermediate School parents’ association raised money by selling cookies and pies. Last year, there was a carnival with balloons and games. This year, it’s firearms -- two of them, including a top-of-the-line rifle, a scope and two boxes of ammunition -- that will be raffled off today at high noon.

“Bake sales are a thing of the past,” said Marta Ellison, one of three mothers who thought of the idea over breakfast at a local restaurant. “Parents are sick of having to buy cookie dough and candy for student groups. If you’re going to do a fundraiser, make it something people want to buy.”

That firearms would be considered a fun prize for a school raffle is not so far-fetched in rural Lampasas (pop. 6,786), where hunting and gun ownership are a way of life.

And with deer season in full swing, selling tickets to visiting hunters who pour into town on the weekends was a natural extension of the idea. “It was a business decision,” said Ellison, who with her friends state Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp and Sharon Fehmel, is organizing the raffle. “These guns are a sales tool, and our target audience is hunters who come in droves here every year like clockwork.”

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Last month, Ellison said, a group of mothers sold 1,000 tickets in one day by standing outside and waving signs at visitors as they stopped to enjoy the town’s annual Welcome Hunters barbecue.

On Saturday mornings, the Country Kitchen restaurant here is a sea of camouflage as hunters wolf down pancakes and omelets before heading out for the day. The food-laden tables have lately been accented with piles of pink raffle tickets, which go for $1 each or $20 for 25. The original 10,000 tickets Ellison ordered have already been sold. She has ordered an additional 2,000.

First prize in the raffle is a Kimber rifle, a Leupold scope and two boxes of ammunition, together valued at $1,300. Hupp, whose legislative district includes Lampasas, used money from her campaign fund to help buy the rifle at cost from Fehmel’s husband, a gun dealer. Under state law, campaign funds can be used for charitable purposes.

Second prize is a Marlin Ducks Unlimited .22-caliber rifle donated by Fehmel, who won it in a raffle held by a hunting organization. “That’s a nice gun,” Fehmel said, eyeing a picture of the Marlin in a flier for the fundraiser. “If I didn’t already have one like it, I’d keep it.”

Hupp said she’s received a couple of e-mails that criticized the raffle, but it’s mostly a hit with residents -- especially parents relieved of the burden of peddling candy to their co-workers. State Trooper Patrick McElroy sold $300 worth of tickets to his colleagues and bought $50 worth of tickets for himself. “I think people bought to support the school, but they bought for a deer rifle too,” he said.

Gordon Nelson, a local constable whose 6-year-old granddaughter shot her first 8-point buck this year, said no one in town thought twice about the unconventional contest. “Most everyone was raised up hunting deer,” he said.

“Pretty much around here people have two or three rifles in the house already.”

Cory Craft agreed. “We don’t see it as raffling a dangerous weapon. It’s a hunting rifle, not an assault weapon. The raffle blends in with the culture here,” he said.

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The money raised will help buy a $15,000 chain-link fence for the middle school, where a stranger recently approached a student as she jogged around the grounds during a physical education class, Ellison said. With several registered sex offenders living in the area, parents decided to put up a barrier.

None of the three mothers organizing the raffle is a hunter, though all know how to use a gun. Ellison, whose husband is an emergency room doctor and a lifetime member of the National Rifle Assn., is a target shooter.

Hupp, the legislator, is a staunch advocate of gun rights, supporting laws that allow Texans to carry handguns in many public buildings and prohibit local governments from suing gun manufacturers without the Legislature’s consent.

Her advocacy has been fueled by her sense of helplessness over a tragedy that claimed the lives of her parents. In 1991, while she was having lunch with them at Luby’s cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, a gunman drove his pick-up truck into the building and opened fire.

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Hupp’s father was shot in the chest when he tried to tackle the man; Hupp’s mother was shot as she cradled the head of her husband of 47 years in her lap. They were among the 24 who died in what was then the worst mass murder by a gunman in U.S. history.

Hupp, who managed to escape the gunman’s fusillade, had left her pistol in her car before entering the cafeteria. She has since become a fierce proponent of the right to carry concealed handguns, first winning a seat in the Legislature in 1996.

Hupp is currently working her political connections to bring an unnamed celebrity to Lampasas for the raffle drawing, she said. Even Fehmel and Ellison don’t know who it is.

“Michael Moore?” Ellison joked. She, like Hupp and Fehmel, was sitting at a table at a local diner, processing out-of-town ticket orders. Word of the contest has spread, and people from as far away as Michigan, South Dakota and California have entered by mail.

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“Some people consider the raffle controversial. I don’t know why,” Ellison said. “We looked at the target market and went after it. What is wrong with that?”


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