John Aquilino

Friday, August 1st, 2003

 Veteran gun rights activist John Aquilino of Hyattsville, Maryland is this month’s CCRKBA Gun Rights Defender of the Month award recipient.
 In nominating Aquilino for the Award, CCRKBA Public Affairs Director John Michael Snyder, noted, “I have known John for 30 years and throughout that time he always has been a staunch defender and promoter of the individual Second Amendment civil right of law-abiding American citizens to keep and bear arms. He has served the right to keep and bear arms cause well at various level of activity – local, state, national and international.  Most recently he has put his efforts into the promotion of the right among young people at the local level in the face of some bigoted, stupid and outrageous opposition but has continued, as always, to stand his ground in defense of our traditional American freedoms. He certainly is most deserving of this Award.”
 As a member of the St. Jerome Parish School Advisory Board in Hyattsville, John suggested a few years ago that the parish raise money for youth school projects through a shotgun raffle. The Council agreed. John and Chris Carroll, a fellow parishioner who is a direct descendant of John Carroll of Carrollton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, formed the Catholic Sportsmen’s Organization (CSO) to facilitate their projects. John says CSO “received IRS approval to raise funds for athletic and educational programs in the community as alternatives to youth gang participation and violence.”
 John and Chris proposed that CSO hold the Father’s Day weekend raffle for a donated shotgun in connection with a sporting clays tournament at the nearby Prince George’s County Trap and Skeet range.
 The first tournament, in 2000, says Aquilino, “drew some 40 new shooters. We donated about $2,500-3000 to the Catholic Youth Organization, the parish scouting programs, and the community boys and girls club. We’ve been holding the tournament with raffle each year since.  Our sponsors include the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, Glock, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Atlantic Guns, and about 30 small businesses and restaurants throughout the community.”
 The project really caught on in the community. “Since it was founded,” according to Mary Shaffrey of The Washington Times, “the CSO has raised close to $30,000 from a wide range of activities. Of this total, about one-third has come from the gun raffle-related events.”
 However, a few anti-gun people in the parish got all upset that the church was getting funds as the result of the gun raffle. At least one of them even left the church over the issue.  As Shaffrey reported, the debate between CSO and the “raffle’s opponents began three years ago when a few parishioners complained to the Archdiocese of Washington that accepting money raised in a gun raffle was tantamount to endorsing gun violence.”
 The raffle’s opponents complained to the local pastor and to the archdiocesan officials. A major opponent, says Aquilino, is a woman, Lyn Taylor, who “led the effort that persuaded Monsignor Kevin Farrell, now Bishop Kevin Farrell, to forbid us to give the parish any funds raised by firearms related activities.” Taylor subsequently lost a mayoral race.
 Farrell, said, Aquilino, “made his decision without hearing our side of the issue. I protested to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, stating that the accusation that our group is ‘tainted by its association with firearms’ is the same attitude of intolerance that nurtures prejudice based on race, creed, and national origin.”
 Aquilino’s protest to McCarrick did not reverse the archdiocesan decision. (McCarrick’s address is 5001 Eastern Avenue, Hyattsville MD 20782. The telephone number is 301-853-4500.)
 That, however, did not stop John Aquilino. CSO held the raffle anyway, even though the money collected can not go to the church for which it originally was intended. CSO, Aquilino tells Point Blank, expects to contribute over $3,000 “to the city to enable our older teens to have the area’s only regulation 90-foot baseline baseball diamond complete with pitching mound, a facility totally lacking in the city.”
 The father of two, John Aquilino is a 1968 graduate of Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He worked at the NRA Institute for Legislative Action from 1976 to 1986. A writer, photographer and consultant whose former clients include Safari Club International, the firearms industry, Americans for Medical Progress and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, he currently is a partner in the PEAT Institute, a consulting firm that provides strategies for industries and corporations targeted by radical animal rights and environmental groups.