Louisiana Police Criticized Over 'Tone Deaf' AR-15 Raffle For Domestic Violence Nonprofit

A Louisiana police officer came disturbingly close to raffling off an AR-15-style rifle this week in a misguided attempt to support victims of domestic violence. The effort was discontinued after activists in St. Tammany Parish spotted a flyer advertising tickets on social media.

The digital leaflet depicted a Core rifle and a smiling portrait of Lt. Patrick Casnave, an officer with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office who was described as a “Superhero” for a domestic violence nonprofit.

“Lt. Patrick Casnave , AKA Superhero for Safe Harbor, is raffling off a rifle ... to benefit Safe Harbor,” read the flyer, which was obtained by HuffPost. “CORE AR-15 Valued at $800. $10 each or 3 for $25.”

The raffle soon faced pushback from activists like Cynthia Weatherly.

The LGBTQ advocate, who previously fought a local library board to keep challenged titles available, said she was shocked when she saw the flyer on Facebook.

“I had just pulled up in my driveway when I saw the ad and my heart sunk immediately,” she told HuffPost on Friday via email. “I don’t consider myself a very emotional person and I’m relatively introverted, but I was immediately struck by the insensitivity of this raffle.”

An image of the flyer advertising a raffle for the AR-15-style rifle.
An image of the flyer advertising a raffle for the AR-15-style rifle.

An image of the flyer advertising a raffle for the AR-15-style rifle.

So Weatherly called the number on the flyer and spoke to Sgt. Carli Messina, another officer at the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office. Weatherly “explained how inappropriate” the raffle seemed, but said she was told it “was mostly aimed at Law enforcement and their friends and family.”

The activist rejected this as a justification to hold a drawing for a deadly weapon.

“As if the gun going into the hands of a LEO [law enforcement officer] made it okay,” she told HuffPost.

Though exact figures are murky, Weatherly cited one estimate that domestic violence among law enforcement is “15 times higher than the general population.”

In their discussion about the raffle, Weatherly said Messina tried to shift attention away from the rifle by arguing that “alcohol also contributes to domestic violence.” Weatherly told HuffPost that she “felt dismissed” by Messina’s statements.

“I got teary eyed as I sat in my driveway,” said Weatherly, noting that her mother had been a victim of domestic violence.

“I can’t imagine being in the midst of this and trying to escape that sort of situation and knowing that the people ‘helping’ are actively fundraising by putting more [guns] ... out into the world,” she continued.

According to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, around 4.5 million women in the U.S. have been threatened with a gun, and nearly 1 million women have been shot or shot at by a partner. Women are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has a gun.

The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But this isn’t the first time that law enforcement has raffled off guns in the U.S.

In Missouri, the Columbia Police Officers Association reportedly said it would proceed with a firearm giveaway last year, despite public outrage after recent mass shootings nationwide.

The Bergenfield Police Department in New Jersey attempted the same in 2019. The effort was reportedly thwarted when the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office intervened, arguing that a state statute prohibited giving away weapons as prizes.

Gun raffles, like this one in North Carolina in 2022, have been popular among Republicans.
Gun raffles, like this one in North Carolina in 2022, have been popular among Republicans.

Gun raffles, like this one in North Carolina in 2022, have been popular among Republicans.

Mel Manuel, an LGBTQ rights activist who is running for Congress as a Democrat in Louisiana’s 1st District, told HuffPost they also learned about the flyer on Facebook — and genuinely weren’t “sure it was real” at first.

“This isn’t a gun for hunting deer, it’s for hunting people,” wrote Manuel, who uses they/them pronouns.

“Raffling it off to support a nonprofit serving victims of domestic violence is unbelievably tone deaf, especially given that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%,” they continued.

Manuel’s opponent in the congressional race, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), has espoused bewildering views on guns in the past.

Last year, Scalise said that passing gun safety legislation to curb mass shootings would be wrong, arguing that “there wasn’t a conversation about banning airplanes” after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He also stated that school shootings didn’t happen in the 1960s, when “we actually had prayer in school.” But gun control advocates are demanding more stringent regulation, not prayer, to prevent violence.

Manuel noted that Casnave’s involvement in the raffle, which Safe Harbor ultimately canceled, is baffling.

“As an officer whose job it is to prevent crime, I can’t imagine why he’d want to add another semi-automatic weapon onto our streets,” they wrote.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.