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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

By The Associated PressSeptember 10, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

The Jonesboro Sun. Sept. 7, 2019.

Most people would simply find it unimaginable: A school where four students and a teacher were killed in a 1998 mass shooting is auctioning off an AR-15 assault rifle to raise money for a band trip to Disney World.

In what universe would that be OK?

Moe, Larry and Curly wouldn’t come up with such a ludicrous idea.

But it’s no joke. Westside’s parent-led band booster club is actually raffling off an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle — the same type of rifle used in dozens of mass shootings in recent years — to raise funds for the school’s band trip.

Our “thoughts and prayers” tokens after school shooting tragedies must truly evade some folks. It was only a year and a half ago that an expelled student of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida walked into the school and killed 17 students and injured 17 others using an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle.

More recent mass shootings with AR-15 style rifles have lawmakers looking at banning such weapons like they did in the 1990s.

Westside Band Booster President Stacy Walz said the group wanted to find an alternative fundraiser to the ordinary. Tickets are $10.

“We were looking for things that were new and exciting,” Walz told Sun reporter Adria Hyde. “You can only buy so much cookie dough, cheesecake and wrapping paper. We were looking to be unique in our offerings the best we could.”

It’s definitely unique. It’s also disturbing.

Who raffles off the weapon of choice for mass school shooters at a school that suffered a mass shooting?

We can only imagine the skits “Saturday Night Live” and late-night comedy show hosts will produce from this bizarre fundraising idea.

Naturally, there’s been an outcry against such a fundraiser at a school that has suffered so much from gun violence.

A-State adjunct professor Brian Mason made his thoughts clear in a Facebook post: “There are a few emotional statements I could obviously post, but I think I’ll stick to logic: What school ‘leader’ anywhere would allow gun raffling to take place in the age of the Active Shooter? And, Westside of all schools? This must be a joke.”

Westside Superintendent Scott Gauntt deflected responsibility by saying the organization auctioning off the gun is not a school-sponsored group.

“This is a parent group, and I have no control over that,” he said. “I have no control over these parents. They are an independent group with their own checking account.”

Gauntt did say he told the group it couldn’t host the drawing at halftime of the Westside Warriors football game on Senior Night.

“The school is not seen as a place for transferring weapons,” Gauntt said. “They can’t bring it on campus.”

Yeah, that would be against the law.

While the superintendent may have no control over the group, he certainly could have expressed his concern and object that such an item be auctioned for a Westside school fundraiser.

Prior to Gauntt taking the superintendent’s post, all fundraising activities were to be brought to the superintendent for approval. That oversight needs to be reinstated.

We realize that lots of folks in Northeast Arkansas are gun aficionados, and that’s great. There’s a time and a place for everything. Auctioning off an AR-15 at an NRA rally wouldn’t be blinked at.

But raffling off an AR-15 at Westside is like auctioning off a copy of “Mein Kampf” at a skinhead rally to raise money for a bar mitzvah.

When the trap-shooting team at Westside auctions off or gives away a duck hunting shotgun at its annual Duck Blast event that makes sense.

“We never actually possess the gun,” said Westside’s Director of Security Ryan Tolbert, who also serves as the school’s state championship-winning trap shooting team coach. “It stays with someone with a federal firearms license, so it’s never in our possession.”

While the band booster parents may have been well-intentioned, auctioning off an assault rifle as a fundraiser at Westside is simply in poor taste — and shows bad judgment.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Sept. 10, 2019.

Before there was the shooting in Odessa, there were mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso. Before Dayton and El Paso, there was Virginia Beach. Before that, Thousand Oaks. Before that, Pittsburgh. And before that, Santa Fe, Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando (twice), Charleston, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, the Aurora theater, San Bernardino and the Washington Navy Yard.

Before all that there was Columbine, which may have been the first big shocker of a mass shooting that started this modern-day avalanche. Before then, the Luby’s-type mass shooting was a rarity even in the United States.

But before even Columbine, Arkansas was dealing with this craziness. For before even those two nuts tore apart their Colorado high school, then themselves, there was Jonesboro.

These days, say the name “Jonesboro” and we think of a growing university town, on the way to being a growing university city. Folks now would never recognize it from its 1980s cityscape. Even the college mascot there is getting antsy to play bigger athletic teams. Most of the arrows are pointing up in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

But there are still folks who think of the shooting when they hear the name “Jonesboro.”

In 1998, a 13-year-old and an 11-year-old stalked their middle school in the Westside school district, and using high-powered hunting rifles pilfered from a grandfather’s stash, shot down four fellow students and a teacher, wounding another 10 in the process.

People around the nation sat gape-mouthed reading their newspapers. Before Jonesboro, the shooters at Luby’s in 1991 in Killeen, Texas, and that Austin, Texas tower sniper in 1966 were full-grown men. These were kids too young for a beginner’s permit.

It’s been 21 years. But for those who lost family there, young family, it mustn’t seem so long.

Why raffle off an AR-15 there?

This has nothing to do with constitutional rights or the Second Amendment or even guns in general. It just seems impolite. Unseemly. There are those who know the difference between a 12-gauge and a 20-gauge who’d still tell you this idea is, in the least, tasteless.

Who signed off on the plan to raffle off a rifle — of any sort — for a school band fundraiser in this particular school district? Is Jonesboro out of cookie dough?

There are those who’d defend the idea. As you knew there would be. And the papers quoted several of them who offered all kinds of rationalizations.

For example:

— Nobody’d object to a shotgun being raffled off.

So why raffle off an AR-15 instead? That is, the preferred weapon of mass shooters over the last 20 years?

— Other local outfits have raffled off guns.

Other outfits aren’t a Jonesboro-area school district, with its history.

— We’re aren’t giving away a loaded rifle at halftime on school grounds.

Where the rifle is handed off isn’t the point. CNN is covering this. Do you think this makes the Jonesboro-area school district look particularly cosmopolitan? Or even sensitive?

— This is another quote from Stephen Simpson’s story in Sunday’s paper: “Trap (shooting) is a very big deal here. In fact, we are the reigning state champions.”

Nobody goes trap shooting with AR-15s.

We get it, somewhat. Jonesboro is Arkansas, and northeast Arkansas at that — surrounded by cotton and corn in the summer, ducks and geese in the winter. Folks there, like folks in most towns in these latitudes, enjoy hunting. They have .22s in their closets for squirrel, 10 gauges for geese, something more powerful for deer. And the Second Amendment isn’t just for bumper stickers in these parts.

But it’s Jonesboro. Parents are still putting flowers on graves of lost children. At some point, some lady or gentleman could have noted that in this one place, such a raffle might be considered ill-advised. Maybe even crass. And to avoid hurt, could have switched to a popcorn fundraiser instead.

After all, this might be the South, but this is the South.

Mama taught us to be more genteel than this. Or, as she might have put it, polite.


Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Sept. 10, 2019.

Arkansas, for about half a century starting in the 1920s, had casino gambling in its own mini-version of Las Vegas in Garland County, where it was easy to get into hot water both physically and fiscally.

Hot Springs has been synonymous with gambling for much of its history. Its rogue status as Arkansas’ casino capital ended in 1967 with a crackdown by Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller.

Horse racing, along with its pari-mutuel wagering, has been legal at Oaklawn Park since 1904. The state went to the dogs, with betting at Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, in 1956.

For many years, the horse and dog races were the legal options for people wanting to scratch their gambling itch. But it wasn’t enough.

Across the nation, gambling interests spread their influence. The growing presence of casino gambling in surrounding states built pressure in Arkansas: Why let people go elsewhere to lose their money? Or in advocates’ more promotional language, why should Arkansas miss out on this economic development opportunity?

In 2005, the state Legislature used its own sleight of hand to authorize “electronic games of skill,” a laughable distinction that nonetheless empowered Oaklawn and Southland to start looking and behaving — or walking and quacking — like casinos.

But it wasn’t enough.

The Legislature referred a measure to legalize charitable Bingo and raffles in 2006, with 69% of voters saying “yes.”

But it wasn’t enough.

In 2008, nearly 63% of Arkansas voters backed a constitutional amendment pressed by then-Lt. Gov. Bill Halter as a way to fund college scholarships. Again, the argument included a plea to give people a way to keep their money in Arkansas rather than spending it on lotteries in adjacent states.

Arkansas has to keep up with the Joneses, you know? Lottery tickets — scratch-offs and the big multi-state kind — are now just part of everyday life in a lot of the state’s convenience stores and other locations.

But it’s not enough.

In 2018, gambling interests got a proposed casino amendment on the ballot. With Arkansans’ approval, there are now four locations in the state — the Hot Springs and West Memphis race tracks plus Jefferson and Pope counties — where casinos will be built. Sure, there’s resistance in Pope County, but we wouldn’t bet against it becoming home to a casino.

Sports betting will be part of the mix.

Even that may not be enough.

Now comes a proposal from Arcade Arkansas, a committee that hopes it can get a constitutional amendment on the ballot next year to authorize coin-operated “amusement machines” throughout the state. Think of it as slot machines on training wheels.

Again, Arkansans will be asked to broaden the “gaming” experience in the name of higher education and even support for veterans. Who can resist?

We don’t always agree with Jerry Cox, president of the conservative Family Council, but this time we think he’s right. “It will turn the corner convenience store into a casino and create hangouts where people can gamble 24 hours a day,” Cox said.

It is already so easy to gamble, and online gambling is becoming ubiquitous. We’re not naive enough to believe Arkansas will end its role as enabler, but our state government should not aid and abet this destructive practice even further. Voters should resist spreading the gambling culture into every neighborhood.

When will enough be enough?

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