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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Stevens County GOP, amid criticism from Democrats, pulls gun auction from event featuring Cathy McMorris Rodgers

An assortment of AR-15 style rifles are seen on display two years ago at Sharp Shooting Indoor Range & Gun Shop in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The Stevens County Republican Party halted plans Tuesday to raffle a semiautomatic rifle at an event where Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was scheduled to speak next month after outcry from her Democratic opponent.

“Our decision today was in response, in part, to Lisa Brown’s attention on the matter,” said Lori Larsen, chairwoman of the Stevens County Republican Central Committee. “But also, we very much feel and grieve for the families in Parkland, and the rest of our nation.”

Brown, the former Democratic leader of the Washington state Senate and chancellor of Washington State University Spokane, tweeted and posted to Facebook on Tuesday morning that the seven-term representative should decline a speaking invitation from the Stevens County Republican Central Committee for its annual Lincoln Day fundraiser. The event was to feature an auction for an AR-15 rifle, a model similar to the one used in multiple mass shootings including the one last week in Florida, referenced by Larsen, and at Sandy Hook, the Connecticut elementary school where 20 children were killed by a gunman in 2012.

The shooter at Freeman High School last fall south of Spokane was armed with an AR-15, but it jammed.

Organizers will instead auction a gift certificate to a local business. Larsen said firearms and ammunition had been top-drawing auction items in recent years at the event, which takes place in a solidly Republican section of the Eastern Washington congressional district that McMorris Rodgers and Brown are vying for this November.

Through a spokesman, Brown declined to comment further on McMorris Rodgers’ participation in the event or to state her position on proposals to ban the sale of certain semiautomatic rifles, including the AR-15. McMorris Rodgers has opposed such bans.

Ashley Stubbs, a campaign spokeswoman for McMorris Rodgers, would not say whether the congresswoman still planned to attend the event after the cancellation of the gun raffle.

“We support the decision that Republican leadership made in Stevens County,” Stubbs said. She also wouldn’t comment further on McMorris Rodgers’ current position on regulations related to semi-automatic rifles.

The event is scheduled to take place March 24, the same day survivors of school shootings and gun control advocates plan a march in Washington, D.C., to push for policies they say would curb the violence, including universal background checks for firearm purchases. In a statement issued after last week’s shooting in Florida, Brown suggested openness to increasing background checks and providing funding to the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes of gun violence.

Event pages online for previous Lincoln Day gatherings indicate rifles were auctioned at the fundraisers in 2017 and 2016. McMorris Rodgers spoke at the 2017 event.

The debate over additional restrictions on gun sales, including the AR-15 model, intensified in recent days following the shooting at the Florida high school on Valentine’s Day. Seventeen people, including students and staff, were shot to death by a shooter armed with an AR-15.

Larsen said the decision was made to avoid the divisiveness of the political issue during an event that has become increasingly popular over the past five years.

“We’re all pulling in the same direction. We want students to be safe,” she said. “We certainly didn’t connect the dots from legal and responsible gun acquisition by folks who would come to our fundraiser event, to the politics of all this.”

Screenshot from tweet posted on February 20, 2018 to Lisa Brown’s Twitter account. (Twitter)
Screenshot from tweet posted on February 20, 2018 to Lisa Brown’s Twitter account. (Twitter)