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NRA gives nearly $200K to Nebraska youth programs
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NRA gives nearly $200K to Nebraska youth programs

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The National Rifle Association has given more than $7 million in grants to hundreds of U.S. schools in recent years, according to an Associated Press analysis, but few have shown any indication that they'll follow the lead of businesses that are cutting ties with the group following last month's massacre at a Florida high school.

Florida's Broward County school district is believed to be the first to stop accepting NRA money after a gunman killed 17 people at one of its schools Feb. 14. The teen charged in the shooting had been on a school rifle team that received NRA funding. But in some other districts, officials say they have no plans to back away.

The AP analysis of the NRA Foundation's public tax records finds that about 500 schools received more than $7.3 million from 2010 through 2016, mostly through competitive grants meant to promote shooting sports.

The grants have gone to a wide array of school programs, including the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, rifle teams, hunting safety courses and agriculture clubs.

In Nebraska, 26 youth programs received $195,529 in grants. 

Field 1 Field 2 Field 3 Field 4 Field 5
year org_name city grant_purpose total_grant
2014 American Legion Post 172 Neligh Youth Educational Materials 5366
2014 Nebraska 4-H Shooting SportsBoone County 4-H Albion Youth Equipment, Yes Program 7337
2010 Alliance Rifle Club Alliance Youth Range/Facilities 5000
2013 Camp Witness Bible Conference Assn Long Pine Youth Equipment 5300
2012 Oak Creek 4-H Trap Club Brainard Youth Equipment 7987
2011 Oak Creek Sporting Club Brainard Youth Equipment 7587
2010 Oak Creek 4-H Trap Club Brainard Youth Range/Facilities 5.00E+03
2014 Sutton Trap Team Sutton Youth Equipment 5216
2013 Oconto 4-H Shooting Sports Oconto Youth Equipment 5206
2011 Nebraska One Box Habitat Association Inc Broken Bow Youth Equipment 10200
2014 Nebraska 4-H Foundation on behalf of Deuel County 4-H Shooters Chappell Youth Equipment 13557
2014 Better Ponca Foundation - Ponca State Park Ponca Youth Equipment 10792
2010 Better Ponca Foundation - Ponca State Park Ponca Youth Equipment 6910
2016 Marian High School Trap Club Omaha General Shooting Program, Competitive Shooting 17287
2011 Eastern Nebraska Gun Club Omaha Youth Equipment 5850
2011 City of Grand Island Heartland Public Shooting Park Grand Island Youth Equipment 8000
2014 Holt County 4-H Shooting Sports ONeill Youth Equipment 7447
2014 Mullen Marksmen 4-H Gun Club Mullen Youth Equipment 5836
2014 University of Nebraska Rifle Club Lincoln Youth Equipment 5982
2013 University of Nebraska Rifle Club Lincoln Youth Equipment 5143
2012 Cornhusker Council of BSA Walton Youth Equipment 6899
2012 University of Nebraska Rifle Club Lincoln Youth Equipment 5481
2014 Merrick County 4-H Council Central City Youth Equipment 5023
2014 Pawnee Gun Club Pawnee City Youth Educational Materials 8500
2014 Happy Go Lucky 4-H Club Dawson Youth Equipment 5324
2013 West Nebraska Trap Club Mitchell Youth Equipment 13299
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"Whatever I think of the NRA, they're providing legitimate educational services," said Billy Townsend, a school board member in Florida's Polk County district, whose JROTC programs received $33,000, primarily to buy air rifles. "If the NRA wanted to provide air rifles for our ROTC folks in the future, I wouldn't have a problem with that."

The grants awarded to schools are just a small share of the $61 million the NRA Foundation has given to a variety of local groups since 2010. But it has grown rapidly, increasing nearly fourfold from 2010 to 2014 in what some opponents say is a thinly veiled attempt to recruit the next generation of NRA members.

The NRA Foundation did not return calls seeking comment.

Broward announced Tuesday that it would no longer accept NRA grants, following more than a dozen major businesses that have split with the group in recent weeks. Companies including Delta Air Lines, MetLife insurance and the Hertz car agency have said they will no longer offer discounts to NRA members.

Annual reports from the pro-gun group say its grant program was started in 1992 and raises money through local Friends of NRA chapters. It says half the proceeds from local fundraisers go to local grants and half goes to the national organization. Tax records show roughly $19 million in grants going to the group's Virginia headquarters in 2015 and in 2016.

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Besides schools, other typical recipients include 4-H groups, which have received $12.2 million since 2010, Boy Scout troops and councils, which received $4 million, and private gun clubs. Overall, about half the grants go to programs directed at youths.

Nearly half of the 773 grants awarded to schools have gone to JROTC programs, which put students through a basic military curriculum and offer an array of small competitive clubs, like the rifle team at Broward's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But JROTC leaders say few students ultimately enlist in the military, and the primary goal is to teach students skills like discipline and leadership.

"The safety that we're teaching, the good citizenship that we're teaching here, those are the things you don't hear about," said Gunnery Sgt. Jim Flores, a JROTC instructor at Cibola High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "The majority of people walk out of here awesome young men and women, respectful of authority, things of that nature. Not so much little tin soldiers."

In some parts of the country, shooting clubs draw the same sort of following as any school sport. Bill Nolte, superintendent of the Haywood County district in North Carolina, says he still shows up at school sportsman's club tourneys even though his son graduated. Starting in sixth grade, students can join the clubs to compete in shooting events, archery and orienteering. For many families, Nolte said, it's just like any other weekend sports event.

"You take your lawn chair and your coffee in a thermos, and do much like you would do if you were going to a youth soccer or travel basketball or baseball event," Nolte said, adding that NRA grants have helped buy firearms and ammunition and cover other costs that otherwise would fall to the parents. "We are constantly seeking revenue for sportsman's club just like we do for cheerleading and track."

Districts that tallied the largest sums of NRA money typically used it for JROTC programs, including $126,000 given to Albuquerque schools, $126,000 to Broward County and $125,000 to Anchorage, Alaska. The most awarded to a single district was $230,000, given to Roseville schools near Sacramento, California, which say much of the funding went toward ammunition and gear for trap-shooting teams.

Grants are often provided as equipment rather than cash, with schools given rifles, ammunition, safety gear and updates to shooting ranges. Nationally, about $1.3 million was provided as cash, while $6 million was provided through equipment, training and other

School board members in some districts said they didn't know about the grants. Donna Corbett, a Democrat on the school board in southern Indiana's New Albany-Floyd County School Corporation, said she never heard about $65,000 that went to a JROTC program at one of the high schools. Corbett said she plans to raise the issue with her board but feels conflicted about it.

"I am not a big NRA fan, but I also realize that ROTC is a good program," she said. "I'm not sure I would be willing to pull it to the detriment of the kids and their programs."

In some ways, the issue reflects the nation's deep political divide over guns. Nearly three-quarters of the schools that received grants are in counties that voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, while a quarter are in counties that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to the AP analysis. Most are in medium-sized counties or rural areas, with few near major cities.

Without NRA grants, some programs would struggle to stay afloat, officials say. For JROTC groups, which receive most of their money from their respective military branches, the grants have become more important as federal budgets have been cut. Programs at some high schools in Virginia, Missouri and other states have folded in recent years amid the pinch.

Lt. Colonel Ralph Ingles, head of the JROTC program at Albuquerque schools, says the Florida shooting has sparked a conversation about NRA grants, but he doesn't anticipate cutting ties anytime soon.

"I don't see anybody really backing down," he said. "I think it's just ingrained that we're going to continue to move forward in a positive direction."

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