ThinkProgress

NRA defends grant to Parkland shooting suspect’s rifle team, lashes out at critics

Charles Lambeth and Joey Wong (l-r) alumni of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School look on at the school on February 18, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. (CREDIT: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that the NRA had donated over $10,000 in equipment to a four-person marksmanship team at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The small team included Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged with murdering 17 people with an AR-15 rifle. While a member of the team, Cruz honed his rifle skills, practicing hitting targets the size of a coin with an air rifle.

The NRA did not provide a comment to the Associated Press. But their official spokesperson, Dana Loesch, has repeatedly defended the grant on her Twitter account. Many of Loesch’s tweets were then retweeted by other official NRA accounts, including @NRATV.

The NRA’s strategy, expressed through Loesch’s tweets, is to describe the grant as one to the school’s JROTC in general. She then claims any scrutiny of the grant is an attack on other students at the school who participated in the program. Some JROTC members, along with other students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, bravely did whatever they could to protect their classmates. One JROTC member, 15-year-old Peter Wang, lost his life trying to help others.

Loesch described ThinkProgress’ first article on the topic as “grotesque.”

The NRA grant, however, was not provided to the JROTC generally. It was specifically to the varsity marksmanship team, which was only comprised of four people. The goal of the NRA Foundation is not to provide financial support for JROTC programs but to encourage gun use by students and recruit the next generation of activists who will fight gun laws.

One of the specific goals of the NRA Foundation is to “enhance marksmanship skills of shooting sports participants,” according to the organization’s 2014 tax filing. One of the people who benefited from this effort was Nikolas Cruz.

The NRA donated “nearly $2.2 million to schools across 30 states in 2016.” The purpose of these donations, including cash grants and equipment, is clear: to expose as many young people as possible to guns.

At the same time, the NRA is working to make sure state legislatures don’t pass gun restrictions, including those that would prevent high school students from purchasing an AR-15. Currently, 1.6 million high school students can legally purchase an AR-15 in their home state.

Many students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High have been harshly critical of the NRA in the aftermath of the shooting. Emma Gonzalez, a senior, delivered an impassioned speech on Saturday taking the organization to task. “To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you,” Gonzalez said.

“Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS,” Gonzales told the crowd at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.