An annual National Rifle Association (NRA) fundraiser dinner was held at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville on Friday, March 23, and the club is facing some scrutiny from gun control advocates.
The dinner included about 1,000 guests, a number that has climbed over the last 20 years. The Charter Oak Committee Friends of NRA dinner raises funds for the NRA Foundation, a non-profit.
Gun control advocates criticized the club for hosting the event on the eve of the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, but Aqua Turf general manager Tim Needham said that the annual dinner was scheduled before the march was organized, and the NRA dinner has been an annual event for more than two decades.
“Up until 36 hours ago, no one paid attention to it or cared, nor did they ever say they found it offensive,” Needham said in a statement. “They did not intentionally plan to hold the dinner before tomorrow’s March for our Lives events. If I wasn’t working this weekend, I’d be there to show support. We have a good reputation, good food and service and we are always giving back to the community—in fact, the Calvanese family raised over $60,000 in the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook. We’re not untouched by what happened there.”
Gun control advocates have threatened to boycott the Aqua Turf for hosting the event, threatening to cancel proms and other events.
“These are business functions. They aren’t political to us; we don’t discriminate,” Needham said in his statement. “It bothers me that, after 45 years of working here to create a business, as successful and giving as it is, to take the abuse we’ve seen over the last few days. We’re getting calls from schools that want to cancel their proms – the same schools we’ve donated thousands of dollars to and sponsored events for. They now suddenly feel they can’t be associated with us, which is sad. We can’t judge whether to hold event based on whether or not we share the same views.”
Needham said that one of the advantages of servicing these annual functions is that Aqua Turf employees have come to know members as people. “Like all of our other annual functions, we reach a point where we know them not as NRA members but Bob, Mary and Joe,” he said in the release. “They become regular people that we’ve done business with them for many years. The folks who attend this event enjoy their pastime and are honest human beings.
Needham said that the backlash has been an “absolute nightmare” to the business, as well as the 180 staff members that worked at the event.
“I have an obligation to provide my staff with their livelihoods,” he said in the statement. “It’s a shame that people decided to pick on this particular issue; they shouldn’t reflect their anger towards us, it should instead be directed at the government and politicians who have the power to change the laws. We don’t have the power – they do, and they aren’t willing to do a thing about it.”