CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - After the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., several businesses cut ties with the National Rifle Association. But a FOX 46 investigation found the NRA has financial ties to hundreds of schools including several in the Charlotte-area.
The NRA donated at least $863,276 to schools and universities in North and South Carolina since 2014, according to a FOX 46 analysis of tax records.
The NRA's charity awarded $369 million in grants nationwide since 1990, according to the NRA Foundation's website. The grants go towards hunting, sport shooting and 4-H clubs, Boy Scouts, ROTC and firearm safety programs.
"I don't think they should be involved in our education," said Maddie Syfert, a high school senior who organized the Charlotte March For Our Lives protest and is critical of the NRA. "Having the NRA come in and give us money, regardless of what it's for, it's surprising and a little uncomfortable."
"If we do need the money," she added, "I think we should find it from somewhere else."
The NRA did not respond to repeated emails and phone calls seeking comment.
Since the shooting in Parkland, the debate over gun control and the NRA has become even more political. Critics say groups receiving money could be perceived as endorsing the NRA.
Looking through the NRA Foundation's 990 tax forms from 2014-206, the most recent years available, FOX 46 found grants were given locally to:
- Porter Ridge High School ($43,134) in cash and sport shooting equipment.
- Parkwood High School ($16,443) in cash and equipment for hunter safety clubs.
- North Stanly Middle School ($13,765) in ammo for its championship marksmanship team.
"This would not be possible if the financial burden were placed on the shoulders of our parents or the school," said Stanly County Schools spokesperson Danny Poplin.
"For students who are interested in [hunter safety clubs], the clubs provide a safe and structured environment with adult supervision," said Union County Public Schools spokesperson Tahira Stalberte.
The NRA Foundation had previously given Marjory Stoneman Douglas, in Parkland, $10,827 for its shooting program. Recently, the Broward County School District announced it would no longer accept NRA money.
While the NRA Foundation has an A-plus rating from Charity Watch, the watchdog group says organizations that receive NRA money should be transparent about it.
"If you had a program on gun safety you'd want to know if it was funded by the NRA or an anti-gun control group," said Charity Watch president Daniel Borochoff. "Just as if you had a program on nutrition and health you'd want to know if it was funded by McDonald's or Philip Morris."
Speedway Children's Charities, headquartered in Concord, received $1.3 million from the NRA Foundation between 2014-2016, the latest years tax returns are available.
SCC raises money and distributes those funds to other non-profits, like Shining Hope Farms, which received at least $10,000, indirectly benefiting from the NRA Foundation.
Shining Hope Farms uses horse therapy to treat children with disabilities. They rely on donations to bring down the cost of treatment, according to executive director Melinda Kirkpatrick.
"Honestly, we would not be able to serve the number of children that we serve on a weekly basis [without donations]," said Kirkpatrick.
Gianna "GiGi" Mrozek, 7, is among the nearly 200 children who are being helped by the organization. When she was diagnosed with a form of cerebral palsy, her mother took her for treatment.
"Three years ago she wasn't walking," said her mom, Nicole Shipp. "She runs and plays outside with her brothers and sisters now."
To her, and GiGi, the program is "most definitely" a life changer.
"In our opinion this isn't about politics," said Speedway Children's Charities spokesperson Scott Cooper. "It's really about helping children in need."
Union County Public Schools Statement
"Union County Public Schools (UCPS) provides opportunities for middle and high school students to participate in hunter safety clubs. For students who are interested in this activity, the clubs provide a safe and structured environment with adult supervision. Several hunter safety groups have received funds from the NRA to support club activities and supplies. No firearms have been purchased with club funds. UCPS and schools track the funding from the NRA for the clubs on an annual basis." -Tahira Stalberte, Union County Public Schools spokesperson
Stanly County Schools Statement
"Stanly County Schools work to provide extra curricular opportunities for students through a variety of clubs. The Friends of the NRA grant allows Marksmanship clubs to provide range improvements, skeet throwers, cartridges, shells and skeet for practice sessions leading up to tournaments. This would not be possible if the financial burden were placed on the shoulders of our parents or the school. The grant monies provided allows marksmanship teams to continue from year to year."
"North Stanly Middle School, that received one of the grants in 2014 and 2016, won the North Carolina Junior State Championship in 3016 and 2017. The North Carolina State Junior Champions are awarded a bid to the National Tournament held in either New Mexico or Pennsylvania each year. This trip allowed our students to travel and see parts of the United States they would most likely never have the opportunity to visit or experience. Friends of the NRA grants provide funds to youth shooting programs, women's programs, the Eddie Eagle program in elementary schools and a variety of other services."-Danny Poplin, Stanly County Schools Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction
NRA Foundation 2014
NRA Foundation 2015
NRA Foundation 2016