AP Investigation Finds NRA Gives Millions To Schools

Mar 9, 2018
Originally published on March 9, 2018 7:00 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, several U.S. businesses have severed ties with the National Rifle Association. But a new report has revealed that the NRA still has financial connections to hundreds of American schools. The group has spent millions in the last decade funding shooting clubs and Junior ROTC programs, including the one where the alleged Parkland school shooter had been a member. Florida's Broward County stopped accepting NRA money after the shooting, but many other school systems still get these funds. Joining us now, Collin Binkley. He was one of the reporters on this story for the Associated Press. Thanks for being with us.

COLLIN BINKLEY: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: How much money are we talking about here exactly, and how many schools have been getting it?

BINKLEY: So the NRA Foundation gave about $7.3 million to 500 different schools across the country in the period that we were looking at, and that was from 2010 through 2016.

MARTIN: So we mentioned ROTC programs, shooting clubs. I mean, can you give us more details about that? What programs beyond those? And what was the process for schools to get this money? Were the schools reaching out and applying for funds, or was the NRA just voluntarily giving it?

BINKLEY: Yeah. These are grants that schools have to apply for. And it goes to a lot of different local groups as well - Boy Scout troops, 4-H groups across the country. Local gun clubs apply for these grants. And schools, it goes to a wide variety of programs that have some connection to gun safety or shooting sports, something like that. So beyond a lot of JROTC programs that receive this money, you're talking about hunting safety courses, farming clubs. It goes to a wide variety of clubs and organizations that could have something to do with guns or shooting sports.

MARTIN: Do the schools have to do anything in return?

BINKLEY: No. The schools apply for these grants. They have to say what they need the money for and how they're going to use it. There's a typical documentation process. But no, it's sort of an easy source of money for some of these programs that schools say are really underfunded. And that's why a lot of these schools say they've been glad to accept the money in the past.

MARTIN: But we mentioned Broward County, Fla., where the Parkland shooting happened, is no longer accepting NRA money, schools there. Have other school systems reconsidered taking this funding since the Parkland shooting?

BINKLEY: Yeah. Just yesterday, actually, the public school district in Denver, Colo., said that it would follow suit. And it's no longer going to accept NRA grants it has in the past. It actually was set to receive several grants this school year. They say they're going to turn those down. They're going to reject the equipment that was supposed to be delivered. But it's still pretty early to see how schools might respond to this.

Some districts said they - school board leaders said they didn't even know that their districts had been getting these grants. And they said they would raise the issue. But it does create a conflict for some of them because these are public school districts, for the most part, that don't want to turn down money necessarily. But they do understand that it's a little political right now.

MARTIN: Right. Does the NRA do this in other ways? I mean, do they give out grants to other organizations? Or is this just about schools, education?

BINKLEY: Actually, the money that goes to schools is a relatively small share of the overall amount of money going to this grant program. So in the period we looked at, 2010 through 2016, about $7 million went to schools. That's out of a total of 61 million that went to a wide variety of groups, again, Boy Scout troops, 4-H programs. So it's actually relatively small...

MARTIN: So those things - the 4-H, the Boy Scouts - those aren't under the auspices of school systems, those are separate grants?

BINKLEY: That's correct. And these also go to some universities that run 4-H programs. But that's separate, correct.

MARTIN: So what has the NRA had to say about this now that some of these school systems are sending this money back or not - they've decided not to take it anymore?

BINKLEY: Well, I'm not sure. They have not returned calls. They haven't commented on this yet. So it's unclear what their stance is on this.

MARTIN: Social media campaigns have pressured businesses to break ties with the NRA in recent weeks. Have you seen any signs that that could happen in this case?

BINKLEY: Not yet. You know, talking to different school district leaders, they say they've actually not received a lot of pressure. In several school districts, they said that - when I called and asked about these - it was the first they had heard about it and that they had heard nothing from parents or community members with concerns about these grants.

MARTIN: All right. Collin Binkley is a reporter for The Associated Press talking about his new story revealing the NRA funding to school systems in the country.

Hey, Collin, thanks so much for being here.

BINKLEY: Great. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.