SOUTHINGTON — A leader of a National Rifle Association group, whose fundraisers are no longer welcome at the Aqua Turf Club, said the venue’s decision wasn’t a mutual one.
After facing criticism from gun opponents, the Aqua Turf on Wednesday announced it wouldn’t host the NRA fundraiser dinner next year based on a “mutual agreement.”
Michele McBrien, co-chairwoman of the Friends of the NRA Charter Oak chapter, said a former chairman met with venue owners and an NRA field representative particpated via telephone. McBrien questioned why no current officers of the Charter Oak chapter were at the meeting.
“I had been dealing with the Aqua Turf. They knew how to reach me,” McBrien said. “I think it’s misleading to tell everyone it was mutual when not all parties were at the table.”
The chairman of the chapter was not involved due to a medical issue, she said. The past chairman had worked with Aqua Turf on the dinner for many years.
Aqua Turf Club manager Karen Alix said she had no further statements beyond the one released Wednesday. In it, she wrote that a former chairperson of the chapter and an NRA field representative agreed with club owners “to move the function elsewhere” after “unprecedented controversy” over the event.
The dinner fundraiser has taken place at the Aqua Turf for more than 20 years. The event, which included gun raffles, took place the night before a gun control rally in Hartford last month that coincided with the national March for Our Lives. Aqua Turf Club officials said the fundraiser is a yearly event that was planned well in advance.
McBrien said the Friends of the NRA chapter was misunderstood by the public. The group can’t lobby and “stays away from anything political.”
“We raise money for firearms safety training and education,” she said. “That’s what you want when it comes to firearms you want safety, you want education.”
The NRA's political action committee is the NRA Political Victory Fund.
The club’s decision has been praised and criticized on social media by those on both sides of the gun debate.
Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said the decision threw his own group’s plans for a 10th anniversary celebration at the Aqua Turf next year in doubt.
McBrien said she had thought that the Aqua Turf Club would continue hosting the dinner, which was sold out this year and includes around 1,000 people.
“I’m disappointed,” she said. “I understand their situation. I think it’s sad that businesses are being put in this situation.”
The dinner will take place next year although McBrien isn’t sure where.
“This isn’t the end,” she said. “This is just a bump in the road.”