Arena football team postpones AR-15 rifle giveaway for ‘Military Night’ after losing team sponsor over the promotion

Sioux City Bandits

Nick Hytrek

Sioux City Journal, Iowa

Jun. 2—SIOUX CITY — The Sioux City Bandits plan to hold a giveaway of an AR-15 rifle during Military Night promotions on Saturday has been postponed after several hours of critics saying it was in poor taste to have such an event a little more than a week after a gunman used a similar weapon in a shooting at a Texas elementary school.

Before the postponement and deletion of a Bandits Facebook post about the event, team owner J.R. Bond said rescheduling or canceling the giveaway “didn’t even approach my radar screen” in the wake of the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 children and two teachers were killed. Another 17 people were wounded.

“This is something we do every season,” Bond said of the second-annual promotion, which he said was finalized nine months ago.

Saturday’s game against Rapid City at the Tyson Events Center was promoted as Military Night, which includes free tickets for active and former military members and first responders and other merchandise giveaways. Bond said last year’s promotions raised five-figure revenue for military groups.

Online commenters focused on the AR-15 giveaway, urging the team not to give away a gun days after the Texas shooting and accusing ownership of being tone deaf in not realizing how the giveaway might appear. Other online comments supported the team’s decision to go forward with the promotion.

David Bernstein, a co-owner of the Sioux City-based State Steel Supply Company, said his company would be terminating its sponsorship with the Bandits “effective immediately” before the postponement news broke.

“We strongly support 2nd amendment rights, but this promotion is beyond tone deaf and is incredibly insensitive to current affairs,” Bernstein wrote in a Facebook comment under the initial Bandits post that was later deleted. He then offered to match the Bandits fundraiser for the promotion and donate proceeds to a veterans organization.

The giveaway was a popular event last season, Bond said, and some people’s “obsession with a piece of metal is overblown” and that the negative comments came from East Coast residents who are “driving electric cars and eating wheat grass.”

“As long as our locally owned, veteran-owned partner wants to continue partnering with us, we’ll continue to do it with them,” Bond said.

The gun was going to be supplied by American Brothers in Arms, a Sioux City business owned by Army National Guard veterans Chase and Brad Cejka. Chase Cejka said the team approached them last season with the idea of giving away an AR-15 during the 2021 Military Night game.

Upon the postponement news, the Bandits said on Facebook: “American Brothers in Arms worked so hard on this charity. Timing is everything though. We will be postponing the give away this year. We will still be giving away the firearms training course and making our usual donation to veterans charities!”

The plan, according to Cejka, was that American Brothers in Arms was going to have a booth at the game. Fans 18 and older would’ve been able to enter the free drawing, and the winner would’ve been announced during the game. The gun wouldn’t have been at the arena. Cejka said the winner would’ve had to come to his business, fill out federal paperwork and pass a background check before taking possession of the firearm.

Cejka said it’s everyone’s First Amendment right to make comments about the giveaway. He said any decision about the event was up to the Bandits.

“I’ve been in contact with the team, and I’m leaving it up to them,” Cejka said.

Bond said there were few comments about last year’s AR-15 giveaway, and a few negative online postings weren’t going to discourage the team from a popular promotion.

“Our fans like it. It’s Iowa. The Second Amendment matters,” he said.

This story has been updated to reflect the postponement


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