A Neosho youth baseball team, unaffiliated with the Neosho School District, has come under fire for a gun raffle designed to raise money for the team and their travels. The 9 and under baseball team was formed late last year by Coach Levi Patterson, who works for Midwest Storm Shelters.

A Neosho youth baseball team, unaffiliated with the Neosho School District, has come under fire for a gun raffle designed to raise money for the team and their travels. The 9 and under baseball team was formed late last year by Coach Levi Patterson, who works for Midwest Storm Shelters.

The controversy arose because the raffle prize is a semi-automatic rifle, an AR-15 Spec 15 manufactured by Black Rain Ordnance in Neosho that retails, depending on the exact specifications, for approximately $1,000.

Although an AR-15 is often considered to be an assault rifle, the weapon is technically a semi-automatic rifle and the AR stands for Armalite Rifle and not assault rifle. It refers to the original company that first developed the rifle in the 1950's as a semi-automatic version of the M16 rifles used by members of the military.

Although the raffle was underway prior to the Valentine's Day school shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School where 17 died, a number of local residents opposed the raffle, partially because the prize weapon is the same as that used by student Nikolas Cruz in the shooting. Many also objected to the fact that the prize is a firearm as well as the fact that 7-9 year olds are selling the tickets. Others continued to offer their support for the fund-raising event.

Among those was Neosho Mayor Ben Baker, who issued this personal statement which does not reflect the view of the City of Neosho or other city council members, "I firmly support the raffle and think it should continue. I think its reprehensible that a handful of hateful people have attacked a good man that is trying to make a difference in our community by giving his time to mentor the youth. I don’t mind when people have an opposing view, this is America and I believe in the first amendment! But when you viciously attack the personal character of people for trying to do something good and misconstrue the facts to fit a narrative, that’s simply wrong. It should never be where a man is fearing for the safety of his family because he oversaw a gun raffle. We’re better than this! The overwhelming majority of people in southwest Missouri are behind Levi Patterson in support of the raffle, and the amount they are raising for the baseball team is showing that."

A number of local residents hold an opposing view and think that the raffle is in poor taste, all the more so after last week's school shooting in Florida.

Ryan White, a local resident, shared his views. "I believe that the raffle is done in poor taste. All the things they could have raffled and they chose to stick with the gun. I’m disappointed and disgusted with our mayor in voicing his support for raffle. Overall I think we as a community we need to take a step back and think on how we do fundraisers in the future."

Area resident Trudy Townsend also stated her opinion. "Absolutely no one needs an AR-15 but law enforcement." Rebecca Williams, Neosho, also said,""Most people around here who are liberally minded would never speak out for fear of ostracism and loss of livelihood."

Coach Patterson stated that the fundraiser was planned long before the school shooting. He also indicated that although his heart breaks for the Florida shooting victims, gun raffles have been happening for years. He further said that none of the children would be forced to sell the tickets

In Neosho, gun raffles are not unheard about and were held at both the Republican watermelon feed and the annual bean feed last year.

The original graphics and post regarding the raffle featured the Neosho School District Wildcat logo although the team is not connected to the district. Neosho Board of Education president, Steve Douglas, spoke out about the controversial raffle. "It's not a school sponsored event," he said. "We're always happy for our youth teams to grow but we had no part in this (raffle). We did not authorize the use of the school logo in the advertising and we did not sanction it in any way."

Since information about the raffle including the logo appeared on Facebook, the social media network erupted with posts both for and against the raffle. An elementary school president, Lee Woodward, South School Principal shared a post about the raffle on her personal Facebook page but later removed it. Views both for and against the raffle have been heated, many of them taking place on Facebook.

The age 9 and under youth baseball team was first organized in December 2017 by the coach, Levi Patterson. In a Facebook post on his personal page, shared by many, Patterson stated that he would be putting together a Neosho 9u (meaning 9 and under) traveling baseball team. He also said that open practices would begin in January and that evaluations would be held during practice times. According to Patterson's post, the best 10 or 11 players would be chosen for the team.

Several Facebook users reported the post to Facebook who has since removed the posts using the Neosho Wildcat logo. It still appears on Facebook in shared posts and screenshots.

Raffle tickets for the AR-15, which continue to be sold despite some objections, sell for $5 each or five tickets for $20.00. The winner will be drawn on Saturday, March 17. The winner must be at least 18 years of age and pass a background check before the prize can be awarded. The rifle was donated for fund raising purposes by the father of a team member.

The raffle has gained nationwide attention in the media, in a nation plagued by increasing incidents of gun violence and mass shootings.

Here's some reaction from the Twittersphere on the matter.

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