Last Tuesday, three weeks after a gunman killed 17 people at one of its schools, Broward County, Florida announced that it would stop accepting money from the NRA Foundation. Between 2010 and 2016, Broward county received $126,000 from the NRA to support shooting training and education programs, including the JROTC marksmanship team of which the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was a member.
According to a recent AP analysis of the NRA Foundation’s public tax records, the NRA gave $7.3 million to about 500 schools from 2010 through 2016. 4-H youth groups received $12.2 million during those years and Boy Scout groups received $4 million. Overall, about half of the grants made during those years— which totaled $61 million— went to programs directed at children. AP found that the NRA’s investment in youth education programs has grown rapidly in recent years, increasing by nearly four times from 2010 to 2014. The geography of grant recipients maps the country’s political divide over guns, with nearly three quarters of schools that received grants located in counties that voted for Trump in 2016.
While the NRA’s financial investment in youth shooting programs has surged in recent years, the organization has long emphasized young shooters in its programming. But it wasn’t until the early ‘80s— not coincidentally the same decade many have noted as the turning point in the NRA’s radicalization— that the NRA adopted an official mandate to “introduce as many of our nation’s youth as possible to the legitimate use of firearms.” Today, the website boasts that more than one million youth participate in NRA shooting sports events and NRA-backed programs.
“What drives the NRA and the gun industry today is the fact that household gun ownership is in a steady decline,” says Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a gun control advocacy organization. Last year, American gun ownership declined to its lowest point in nearly 40 years — from half of American households in 1978 to about a third today. “The traditional gun buying public— white males— is aging,” Sugarmann explains. “To borrow a phrase from the tobacco industry, the NRA and gun manufacturing industry are trying to find ‘replacement shooters’ to take their place.”
The goals are multifold. For gun manufacturing companies, a larger youth base means expanding sales— many companies now design and market smaller, lighter guns specifically for children— and securing their future consumer base. For the NRA, it means sustaining a pro-gun base for political action. At the NRA’s 1996 Annual Meeting in Dallas, Texas, then-President Marion Hammer laid out the stakes: “It will be an old-fashioned wrestling match for the hearts and minds of our children, and we’d better engage our adversaries with no holds barred….If we do not successfully reach out to the next generation, then the freedom and liberty that we’ve lived for — and that many of our ancestors have died for — will not live beyond us.”