NOTE: THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED AT 2AM 9/20/2019 with a response from Tractor Supply Company.
Most states regard charity raffles as forms of gambling, and the U.S. has a patchwork quilt of various rules and regulations regarding their use for fund raising by churches, schools, fraternal groups and other non-profit groups. Because of Freemasonry's strong identification with the moral rectitude of is members, some grand lodges (but not all) over the years regarded raffles and gambling on par with drinking, and prohibited their lodges to engage in any of it. Such strictures were partially why the Shrine was born in the 1870s, to give Freemasons a less prudish outlet for their social activities than the lodges had become.
Raffles have been a staple of Shriners' fundraising over the years, even though many grand lodges forbid their blue lodges to use them. My own state of Indiana is one such state, and our grand lodge only this year began permitting lodges to use raffles. In fact, we're still hammering out the final paperwork requirements and regulations to inform lodges on the nuts and bolts of running them. Raffles require all sorts of government licenses, permissions, paperwork, and tax forms, and it's not just as simple as printing up tickets, collecting piles of unreported cash, and pulling a lucky name out of a goldfish bowl.
Some of the most common items to raffled all across America by countless charities are firearms - frequently rare, historical, or otherwise collectable rifles and pistols. This is perfectly legal to do, and almost always done in conjunction with a licensed gun shop so that proper background checks are properly performed and state and federal gun laws adhered to.
So just in time for the Grand Lodge of Indiana to approve raffles, firearms have become a politically toxic hot potato across the country. This story comes out of Texas this week, and it touches on this very topic. It seems that Tractor Supply Company, a major rural retailer of farm and sporting equipment, has made a corporate decision to ban organizations holding raffles of firearms from setting up their charity booths and selling tickets in front of their stores. The decision came from its national office, not a local manager. (See the update at the end of this story - CH)
TSC does sell guns and ammo at its stores, and is a licensed gun retailer. This makes the new policy somewhat inexplicable.
|While not specifically involved in this story, |
this type of rifle is not an unusual fundraising item
From the Palestine Herald on Thursday:
Charities selling raffle tickets for a chance to win a firearm are no longer welcome in front of Tractor Supply.
In answer to a customer complaint earlier this month, the store's corporate office banned all raffles awarding firearms as prizes.
In the wake of several mass shootings in the past several months – two in Texas – that left dozens dead and dozens more wounded, many private businesses have restructured their firearms policies.
Most recently, Walmart, the world's largest retailer, announced they would stop carrying pistol ammunition, and certain long-barrel ammunition commonly associated with assault rifles like AK-47's and AR-15's.
Many Americans, fed up with seemingly constant reports of mass shootings across the country, are making themselves heard by speaking to, and perhaps pressuring, retail establishments.
Boycotts, for instance, have been an effective tool of the public for centuries.
“The Tractor Supply manager has always been super nice,” Master Mason James Ashley told the Herald-Press Friday. “I'm sure he was caught between a rock and a hard place when corporate made their ruling.”
Jennifer Key, a 44-year-old customer service agent said the choice, ultimately, is up to Tractor Supply, not its customers. She said the free-market – whether customers choose to shop at the store – should speak for the public.
“Frankly, I'm surprised Tractor Supply made that call [to ban firearm raffles],” she said. “But, they're a private company, and it's their call to make.”
Last year, three high school students – one each from Palestine, Westwood, and Neches High Schools – won $1,000 scholarships from Palestine's Masonic Temple, Lodge 31.
The scholarship money came from raffle tickets sold outside storefronts like Tractor Supply. This year's prize: a Henry Golden Boy .22 caliber rifle.
“It's a trophy rifle, not a so-called assault weapon,” Ashley's father, Tom Ashley, also a Master Mason told the Herald-Press. “Still, someone called in a complaint to their headquarters, and corporate disallowed it.”
Ashley said the lodge was hoping to increase the award to $1,500 this year. Having lost one of their ticket-selling outlets, however, might put that plan in jeopardy.
Also on the sidewalk when the Masons were told to leave was Henry Kitchens of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Post 991. The VVA was also raffling off firearms; a .308 rifle, and a 9mm handgun.
Kitchens, whose organization provided six $1,000 scholarships to local students last year through raffle proceeds, was also told to leave.
“I don't hold anything against Tractor Supply,” Kitchens told the Herald-Press. “They've always been good to us. It's a shame that one person's complaint can disenfranchise everyone else, however.”
Kitchens and Ashley, who have held similar raffles for years, said they'd feel better if Tractor Supply, like Walmart, had a policy restricting all fund-raising, rather than singling out a few.
“When Walmart said we could no longer use their storefront, they told us it was for everybody,” Ashley said. “Even the Girl Scouts can't sell cookies there anymore. I can understand that; what's fair for one should be fair for all.”
“I personally think that if you don't like the prize for a raffle, then don't buy the ticket,” Temple, 44, told the Herald-Press. “As far as tractor supply saying you can't sell due to the prize being a gun, then I think the rule should apply to all.”
Temple, a field-service technician, said corporations should represent, and stand up for, the wants of the majority of their customers.
“That is why our country is in the shape it's in now,” he said. “We try to please the few that are screaming loudly, but we don't listen to those who quietly like the way things are, even if they're in the majority."
Kenneth Rollins, 62, who retired from Walmart earlier this year said, for him, the answer is simple.
“Tractor Supply just lost a customer,” he said.
Winners of either contest must pass federal background checks before prizes are awarded. In the event a winner fails the background check, another winner is chosen at random.These types of raffles and other fundraising booths have been a staple of community life for decades. But national corporations are increasingly dictating to local stores draconian policies that frequently conflict with the values of the majority of their customer base. The globalization of instantaneous "outrages" via cell phone and overnight boycotts have all run roughshod over what used to be small town decisions by individual businesses that historically supported their local charities. The WalMart situation of banning ALL fundraising from their properties instead of dealing with the headaches stoked by the perennially indignant has robbed communities of important connections with their customers and neighbors. These corporate policies only serve to further isolate them from the very people they expect to actually spend money in their stores. That means local charitable groups like Masonic lodges are being driven farther off of the radar screens of their own neighborhoods as they fall victim to "activists" on the other side of the country.
And that can't be good.
Read the full story HERE.
I spent Friday unsuccessfully attempting to negotiate Tractor Supply Company's website and various telephone trees at their customer service center in an attempt to get official clarification from them, or an official response other than what the local newspaper in Texas reported. Fortunately, Mackenzie Goldman, a Public Relations Specialist at TSC in Brentwood, Tennessee saw this post late Friday and reached out to me with the following message:
"I came across your blog post regarding Tractor Supply on the Freemasons for Dummies website and wanted to reach out.
"Tractor Supply strives to be active members of the communities in which we call home, and we seek to support causes that are central to the mission and purpose of our business as a rural lifestyle retailer. We respect America’s fundamental freedoms and take individual rights very seriously. Our primary focus for fundraising is for FFA and 4-H youth programs. Other fundraising decisions are made on a local store-by-store basis taking into consideration factors unique to each situation. Tractor Supply is making donations to the local Palestine, TX chapters of the referenced organizations to support their college scholarship programs.
"Thank you for the opportunity to respond."So it sounds as though there is wiggle room for local managers at TSC stores.
(Please don't turn the comments to this story into inflammatory pro-gun/anti-gun diatribes. This is a hot-button issue for many people on both sides - but gun sales are still quite legal in the U.S. and will be for the foreseeable future. Please keep the discussion about how these types of bans could affect Masonic lodges who have historically held these raffle charity events.)