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Gun bash doesn't rankle Penn Hills police

| Thursday, March 18, 2010

Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton said Wednesday he isn't upset that two local fire departments are raffling off at least 25 guns a little more than three months after someone fatally shot one of his officers.

"What (residents) should look at is that the individual that killed our officer didn't legally own a gun and couldn't own a gun," he said. "The problem is these individuals who own guns illegally and commit the crimes."

Penn Hills volunteer fire departments Nos. 3 and 7 will hold a "gun bash" March 27 at the No. 7 fire hall where rifles, a pistol and a revolver will be raffled off. The event, in its fifth year, raises between $10,000 and $12,000 for the departments, said No. 7 Assistant Chief Bill Jeffcoat. It's money they can't afford to give up, he said.

A teacher from a neighboring community sent an e-mail to WPXI-TV questioning the propriety of giving away guns in light of gun violence in Penn Hills and surrounding communities.

The teacher declined to be interviewed.

Penn Hills Officer Michael Crawshaw, 32, was shot in his patrol car Dec. 6. Police say Ronald Robinson, 32, fired an automatic weapon into the police cruiser as Crawshaw waited for backup to a 911 call that turned out to be another killing.

The fire department buys its guns from a dealer that sends representatives to the raffle to conduct background checks -- the same type done at retail stores, Jeffcoat said.

"If they don't pass, they don't get the gun, they get the cash value of the gun," he said. "It's not like we're just handing these guns out onto the street. We abide by every single law."

Jana Finder, coordinator of CeaseFire PA's Western Pennsylvania Chapter, a nonprofit that advocates stricter gun laws to limit violence, said she understands why some people might react negatively to the raffle.

"Of course we're concerned that Officer Crawshaw was killed and understand that community members may be sensitive that this gun raffle is happening," she said. "Everyone needs to be sensitive to those concerns."

Burton said he doesn't consider the raffle disrespectful.

"I can appreciate people's concerns," he said. "But the fire departments are in dire need of money."

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