- Associated Press - Friday, November 24, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Organizers of a year-end charity gun raffle in southern New Mexico say they are better off after separating from United Way Worldwide, which had sought to block the annual firearms fundraiser.

Alamogordo-based Thrive in Southern New Mexico dropped the United Way name and affiliation earlier this year after its local firearms raffle was thrust into the national debate over access to guns.

Thrive still describes itself as the leading fundraising organization for local nonprofits in a rural, two-county area. Executive Director Stephanie Hale said the reorganization is keeping more funds in the local community that previously went to the United Way, and that the firearms raffle this year should pay for her group’s annual operating expenses.

“We still do the same things that we did as part of United Way, only now all the funds that we raise stay,” she said.

Thrive in Southern New Mexico briefly suspended publicity for its “Ultimate Firearms Raffle” of more than 100 guns in the aftermath of recent mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a Texas church. Hale says Thrive will promote raffle ticket sales in December at several gun shows.

“We’re trying to push them when we can, when there’s not some tragedy caused by a lunatic,” she said. “You kind of have to walk a fine line when these things happen.”

Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said the raffle undermines public safety by distributing more guns into the community - including military-style rifles.

Viscoli said the raffle continues to casts a shadow over the Thrive’s charitable giving, even if raffle proceeds don’t go directly to local nonprofits. She previously urged United Way to end or break ties with several gun raffles.

“Is it fair to the nonprofits that they are giving money to? What about the parents whose kids go the Boys and Girls Club, but they don’t agree with the firearms raffle?” Viscoli said. “It’s in poor taste to put it mildly.”

Thrive in Southern New Mexico has teamed up with a Western True Value store to sell 2018 calendars that come with a raffle ticket for $50. With 4,000 calendars available, Thrive stands to collect as much as $200,000. The drawings take place Dec. 27, though winners are announced gradually throughout the coming year each Tuesday and Thursday.

The firearms include 15 semi-automatic AR-style rifles with a military-style appearance, shotguns, and various caliber handguns and rifles. A special drawing awards a gun safe and five firearms to one ticketholder.

Beyond the raffle, leading charitable donors to Thrive include the region’s main hospital, the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center. Thrive funnels charitable contributions to about a dozen nonprofit programs and agencies that include senior centers, youth support groups, and resource organizations for victims of domestic-violence and sexual assault.

Rhonda Cross, board vice president for Thrive, emphasized that the Ultimate Firearms Raffle distributes guns through a federally licensed gun dealer that runs a background check on winners.

“Me personally, I have no qualms about doing this,” said Cross, who says her husband, children and grandchildren have guns and are well trained in safety.

Viscoli pointed out that any gun recipient from the raffle can resell their weapon directly to another individual without a background check, under provisions of New Mexico law.

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