By SHERIDAN CYR
The Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL) has decided they will no longer hold events at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington. The organization canceled their Feb. 9, 2019 event after the club issued a statement, written in collaboration with the National Rifle Association, stating the club would no longer host the annual Friends of the NRA fundraiser dinner.
The fundraiser dinner was held on Friday, March 23, the evening before the nationwide March for our Lives event. Gun control advocates protested outside of the Aqua Turf, criticizing the club for hosting the NRA event.
Following the event, then-manager Tim Needham issued a statement.
“We’ve been doing this NRA dinner for over 20 years, but 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 the release. “These are business functions. They aren’t political to us. We don’t discriminate.”
Needham said it was “a shame” people decided to pick on a particular issue. “They shouldn’t reflect their anger towards us,” he said in the statement. “It should instead be directed at the government and politicians who have the power to change the laws.”
Facing criticism and pressure, club owners, an NRA field representative, along with a long-time former chairperson for the Connecticut committee of the NRA, collaborated on a statement announcing a joint decision to no longer host the annual NRA event.
“During this meeting, both sides mutually agreed to move the function elsewhere. It was an excruciatingly difficult decision to make as we had formed a 25-year client/venue relationship,” the statement said. “The Aqua Turf Club appreciates the understanding and support of the NRA.”
The CCDL issued a statement to the Aqua Turf Club signed by president Scott Wilson and events coordinator Holly Sullivan after the decision was made to no longer host the NRA event.
“The CCDL has been pleased to host our Anniversary Dinner at your location for the past several years,” Wilson said in the statement. “However, we are tremendously disappointed in the Aqua Turf’s statement released yesterday that the Friends of the NRA would no longer be welcome after a 25-year relationship. While we understand that the Aqua Turf received pressure from outside entities, we cannot continue to patronize the Aqua Turf now that your company has publicly taken a political stance in stark contrast with our own.”
In Needham’s original statement, he pointed out, “We can’t judge whether to hold events based on whether or not we share the same views.”
He also noted the club is “always giving back to the community,” and even raised over $60,000 in donations in the immediate aftermath of the tragic shootings in Sandy Hook.
When called for comment, club manager Karen Alix stated Needham has since retired, and respectfully declined to comment on the issue.
“While I appreciate the call, the Aqua Turf has no further comment at this time.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonOberver.com.