Friends of NRA

A fundraiser held for the National Rifle Association at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville, Connecticut, on March 23 stirred controversy among gun-control advocates.

Activists raised concerns that the Friends of the NRA — a grassroots fundraising program — was held just over 30 miles from Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the devastating Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012. Women’s March Connecticut issued a press release on March 22 denouncing the fundraiser. And a day after the event, thousands of Connecticut residents took part in a national day of protest — the “March for Our Lives” — urging officials at all levels of government to enact stricter gun control legislation.

“To hold such an event in the state of Connecticut, which included raffling off guns and assault rifles as prizes, is beyond tone-deaf — it is irresponsible and offensive,” Heather Whaley, an organizer of the Women’s March in Connecticut, told the News.

According to the event flier, admission cost $65 for an individual dinner ticket and $1,500 for a table, which included 10 dinner tickets and a choice among three featured firearms to take home from the event. Held at the banquet hall, which can host up to 1,600 guests, the event featured a gun auction and raffle. Matthew McBrien, the secretary of the Oak Chapter of the Friends of the NRA, declined to comment on Sunday.

Because the Aqua Turf Club is a popular venue for high school proms and events, Whaley said, the event was disappointing for students, who recently organized a national walkout to protest gun violence. Po Murray, the director of the Newtown Action Alliance, said the fact that the event was scheduled just a day before national demonstrations against gun violence and close to Newtown is evidence that the NRA is not in touch with the “very real concerns” of Connecticut’s parents, students and public.

“An NRA fundraiser not far from Newtown is not welcome in our community,” Murray said in a statement.

In response to the deadly February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, protesters spilled onto the streets on Saturday in hundreds of cities worldwide. Rallies took place across Connecticut, including in Enfield, Old Saybrook, Roxbury, Shelton, Stamford and West Hartford.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., expressed support for protesters and participated in marches in Guilford and Hartford.

“Most politicians only pay attention when the mass tragedies happen, like Sandy Hook and Parkland, but the gun violence epidemic doesn’t take a day off. For kids in places like Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven, they live it every day. This is a uniquely American problem,” Murphy said in a March 24 statement. “It’s because it’s incredibly easy for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons, and because Congress refuses to do anything about it.”

Grace Ozyck, a Wilbur Cross High School senior and student organizer of her school’s walkout, attended a march in Hartford and was impressed by the turnout. She said attendees ranged in age and came from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds because “everyone is affected by the issue.”

Isabel Bysiewicz |