Hawaii schools are among the hundreds nationwide that received more than $7 million in total grants from the National Rifle Association in recent years, according to an Associated Press analysis.
A handful of public and private schools in the Aloha State received more than $116,000 in grants from the NRA from 2010 to 2016, according to an analysis of the NRA Foundation’s public tax filings for those years.
California topped the states with more than $1 million in NRA school grants in that time range. Hawaii’s grant allotment of more than $100,000 but less than $150,000 in those years puts it in the company of states like Arkansas, Nevada and Virginia, according to the AP’s analysis.
The NRA has pushed back against efforts for stricter gun control measures following mass shootings around the U.S., including the Feb. 14 shootings at a Parkland, Florida, high school that killed 17 people. The NRA filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida after the governor signed legislation imposing stricter gun controls in the state, including raising the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21.
The AP’s analysis found that NRA grants to schools have increased in recent years, with 500 schools across the U.S. receiving more than $7.3 million in a six-year time period, mostly for competitive shooting squads and for Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
In Hawaii, these grants have mostly helped purchase equipment for air riflery shooting teams and to help stage the Air Riflery State Championships, an annual event at The Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu that is organized by the Hawaii High School Athletic Association.
Civil Beat pulled the detailed data from the AP’s database for this story.
The Hawaii public schools receiving NRA grants during this period included Hilo, Maui and Kailua high schools. Private schools included Kamehameha Schools, St. Joseph School of Hilo, Christian Liberty Academy, Saint Louis School and Island Pacific Academy.
Honolulu-based entities received most of the grants, followed by Hawaii County and then Maui County.
Other youth-oriented groups have received NRA funding, including the Maui County Council Boy Scouts of America for gun safety training.
“Boy Scouts do not get into the politics of things, so we stay neutral regardless if it’s the NRA or another political issue,” Duc Button, the chapter’s scout executive said. “We will continue to apply for the grants, because it goes toward funding programs for the youth and it supports the kids.”
Hawaii schools apply directly for these competitive grants. Local “Friends of NRA” chapters hold an annual fundraising dinner on Oahu to raise funds for high school shooting teams. The chapters review grant applications and make recommendations to the NRA Foundation as to which bids should be approved.
Rarely is an application turned down. Most of the time, the grants are extended to purchase team equipment, such as air rifles, lead pellets, stands or shooting jackets.
“It’s very popular and it’s not unique to Hawaii,” Harvey Gerwig, president and director of the Hawaii Rifle Association, said of competitive air riflery. “It opens up a door for these kids to get tremendous scholarships to go to college on.”
Having an association with the NRA in the midst of school shootings has not discouraged some area schools from continuing to seek these funds.
“There is nothing nefarious about the program,” said Mike Axelrod, athletic director and head rifle coach at Island Pacific Academy, a private K-12 school in Kapolei. “As a growing program, we’ve applied for the past several years. It’s one of the most expensive sports, so the grant money goes to buy equipment that normally we wouldn’t be able to take care of through our operating budget.”
The recent Florida shooting has caused some school districts, including the Broward County School District – home to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the massacre where the shooter was reportedly a former member of the varsity air rifle shooting team — and Denver Public Schools, to reconsider their ties to the pro-gun group, according to the AP.
Those severed ties follow announcements by several major corporations, including Delta Air Lines, United Air Lines and MetLife, among others, that they would no longer offer discounts to NRA members.
An NRA Foundation representative did not respond to an email and call requesting comment.
While the average NRA grant distribution to a requesting school here is about $6,000, some schools have received far greater sums.
Hilo High School on the Big Island received $36,266 in 2015. Kailua High received $22,121 in 2016. The private Saint Louis School that same year received nearly $21,000.
The Hawaii Department of Education, which oversees all public schools in the state, said it does not track these grants at a central level.
“In a review of HIDOE’s Financial Mgmt. System, no grants originating from the NRA Foundation are documented at the department-level. Schools may apply for and receive grants directly, however, and record them into their Student Activity Funds (SAF),” DOE communications specialist Derek Inoshita wrote to Civil Beat in an email.
Civil Beat contacted all of the Hawaii schools on the NRA grant list for years 2010 through 2016 and did not hear back from most.
Maui High Principal Jamie Yap said he started his job at the beginning of the year and wasn’t aware of the $6,900 the school’s air riflery team received in 2014.
“I’m not looking for that type of money to begin with,” Yap said.
Air riflery sees high rates of participation on Oahu and the neighbor islands. Among the 23 Oahu high schools that are members of the Oahu Interscholastic Association, 19 have a competitive shooting team.
“It’s an area where kids can go and be competitive without being tremendously athletic in terms of physical prowess,” said the HRA’s Gerwig. “They can take it to college. It’s typically a life skill.”