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Lewis-Arriola Elementary faces mixed reaction after adding handgun to silent auction

Lewis-Arriola Elementary School. A fundraiser for the school plans to auction a handgun. (Journal file photo)
The 9 mm handgun is part of school’s annual fundraiser

Montezuma-Cortez Superintendent Tom Burris on Tuesday defended a Parent Teacher Organization’s decision to sell a handgun at a fundraiser later this month, saying the group was taking the right steps to ensure the handgun was safely transferred to the raffle winner and avoided “gun show loopholes.”

Burris’ comments came after Cortez residents Dr. Doug and Deanna Bagge wrote a letter to the editor published in The Journal on April 19 that called the auction of the handgun, a Taurus 9 mm, “a slap in the face to our teachers and students.”

Saying that such a handgun “has been used in mass school shootings,” Doug and Deanna Bagge asked, “Is money more important than respecting our teachers who literally put their lives on the line daily to educate our youth?”

Montezuma-Cortez Superintendent Tom Burris

Lewis-Arriola Elementary’s annual fundraiser is April 29 at the public Lewis-Arriola Community Center. Although the school is part of Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1, the PTO is not under district jurisdiction, and has its own bylaws and 501(c) (3) regulations, Burris said.

Organizers of the silent auction said the gun would not be present at the small rural school north of Cortez. Instead, a picture of the handgun will be shown.

PTO organizers noted that they put in safeguards to ensure the winner of the raffle would go through lawful procedures before obtaining the handgun, which retails for $500 to $600. The fundraiser will take place off school grounds.

PTO co-chair Morgan Head said Tuesday that handgun bidders must be over 21 years of age and present a valid ID to close out the bid. Additionally, they will be required to complete a background check and valid transfer before the gun will be in their possession.

“We understand that concern has been raised regarding issues involving gun safety, gun violence and mass school shootings,” Head said. “The acceptance of this as a silent auction item in no way constitutes support or disregard for these issues. In consideration of these concerns being raised, we are taking extra steps to obtain gun safety items such as eye and ear protection, a trigger lock, a locking pistol safe and concealed carry class gift certificates.”

Head addressed the RE-1 Board of Education at its Tuesday meeting and invited board members to the fundraiser. She told the board that last year the PTO raised $28,300 for Lewis Elementary.

“This is fair to say that with the handgun, it's a picture,” Burris said. “It's not actually there, and whoever gets it has to do a background check which I absolutely would require even though I can't require it.”

Although PTO’s and Parent Teacher Associations are different organizations, the Colorado PTA said it would oppose a similar auction under its umbrella.

“If it were a PTA, we would be strongly opposed to them having such an item in an auction, and there might have been ramifications for their status as a member of PTA,” said Vice President of Communications Evie Hudak of Colorado PTA on Wednesday. “We in PTA are glad that one of our local units isn’t doing this, but we are concerned that any school group would think it is appropriate.”

The Colorado PTA is based in Denver.

The Lewis Elementary Hoedown is April 29 at the Lewis-Arriola Community Center with a start time of 4 p.m. It will include an “all you can eat dinner,” dessert, silent auction and dance. Members of the community are welcome to attend.