Guests who arrived at Concorde Banquets in Kildeer for a Lake County Republican fundraiser that featured a gun raffle were greeted by about 100 protesters upset the event was happening less than two weeks after 58 people were killed in the Las Vegas mass shooting.
The protesters held signs that said "If guns are prizes we all lose" and "USA not NRA." There were also signs with the names of the 58 victims.
Grayslake resident Patt Heise, who on Wednesday came up with the idea to protest the gun raffle, made the signs.
"I started writing down information about each victim on the back of them, but I just got too depressed," Heise said.
Members from 17 gun control and political groups came to the protest. Lee Goodman of Peaceful Communities said the demonstrators wanted to send a message to the Lake County Republicans that they should stop financing their campaigns with guns.
"The people want more effective gun laws, not more guns," Goodman said.
Ted Livengood, the second vice chairman for the Lake County Republicans, said Friday's event was no different from fundraisers held by other political groups.
"This is something that has been planned for nine months; it's just another event," said Livengood, who made clear that he was speaking about his own views and not on behalf of his organization. "Do you change your life because of a tragedy? If we postpone the event, they have a victory that they can fundraise off it."
Twenty-four firearms were raffled off at the $75-per-person fundraising dinner, including at least two safes filled with guns.
Mark L. Shaw, chairman of the Republican Central Committee, acknowledged the strong feelings on both sides of the debate.
"We live in a very diverse county here, a very diverse state," he said. "There are a lot of hunters, a lot of Second Amendment types that live in the Chicago metropolitan area. Also, I understand the concerns in Chicago, because obviously we have a horrendous number of homicides every day in Chicago. "I wish that there was as much media attention put on what is the root cause of the murders in Chicago than merely just assuming that a gun is the reason."
Not all Lake County Republicans agreed the gun raffle was appropriate.
On Thursday, Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said he would not attend, opting instead to meet with members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to speak about sensible gun law reform.
"I think that support for the Second Amendment and support for sensible gun laws are not mutually exclusive," Lawlor said. "I think (having the dinner) two weeks after nation's largest mass shooting is in poor taste. It is a bad time to do this, especially when folks are drinking."
Lake County Board member Steve Carlson also was among the prominent Republicans skipping the fundraiser. He called it inappropriate "in view of recent events."
Carlson, of the Gurnee area, said "reasonable gun laws" can be enacted while simultaneously protecting the constitutional rights of gun owners.
The protest went on with little interaction between the protesters in the back of the parking lot and the diners inside, though some at the banquet came out to take pictures of the protesters and speak to the media.
Mike Rioux of Red Dawn Arms, a gun store in Lake Villa, said he sold 22 of the 24 firearms to the organizers for the raffle.
"This was discussed in March. It wasn't like, 'Hey, look a there's a shooting -- let's take advantage of it,'" Rioux said.
Rioux said the people who win the raffles have to pick the weapons up at his store and must pass a background check.
Rioux said more gun raffles are happening in the area because they are fun events.
"People want guns," Rioux said. "America loves firearms."
As the protest was winding up, Heise of Grayslake collected the signs bearing the names of the 58 Las Vegas victims.
"You know, for the next one," she said.