Several local school districts and the University of California system received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the National Rifle Association between 2010 and 2016.
The money, in the form of grants from the NRA Foundation, thrusts what were once largely non-controversial gun- and hunting-safety programs and extracurricular shooting clubs into a bitter national debate about accepting money from the polarizing firearms advocacy group.
The NRA gave about $1 million in cash and non-cash grants to school organizations and private shooting clubs in the Sacramento region between 2010 and 2016, according to a Sacramento Bee review of data obtained by The Associated Press.
About half of that money — $500,000 — went to local public schools, all of them in Placer County, or to a UC address in Davis.
The NRA awarded about $300,000 in grants to the Roseville Joint Union High School District, more than any other district in the nation during that period, according to the AP.
The district told The Associated Press that much of the funding went toward ammunition and gear for trap-shooting teams. Ron Severson, superintendent of the Roseville district, told the AP that no parents have raised concerns over the funding, but administrators may reconsider it in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting.
“After we get through this spring, we will probably take some time to assess how to move forward,” he told the AP.
One of the district's programs that received NRA grants was Woodcreek High School Sportsmens Club, which received about $124,000 in cash and non-cash grants.
Its coach, Alex Gray, told The Bee that each year, about 50 students — a third of them girls — participate in competitive shotgun shooting sports programs at a Lincoln-area target-shooting range.
The club is among dozens of school-affiliated programs that participate in the California Youth Shooting Sports Association, which hosts shooting competitions, including in the Olympic sports of skeet and trap.
The NRA is one of the association's primary sponsors.
Gray said that before students ever pull a trigger, they have to spend several hours in the classroom learning gun safety. A few students each year go on to receive university scholarships for collegiate shooting programs. Some have dreams of competing in the Olympics, he said.
"We have kids that a lot of times this is their only connection to the school," Gray said. "A lot of kids .... all they do is shooting sports, using that connection with the school to be a part of something. I had two kids tell me because of the college (shooting) teams, they actually wanted to go to college."
Public schools in Loomis, Colfax, Tahoe City and Lincoln also received NRA grants. Granite Bay High School's trap-shooting team received a $61,000 NRA grant. The team has a "Join NRA" button prominently displayed on the home page of its website.
Bill Durston, a Sacramento resident and president of Americans Against Gun Violence, said school districts should not take the NRA's money, especially following the Parkland shootings.
"It's not benign at all," he said. "It's getting kids interested in guns. It's downright unethical for schools to accept money for that."
Durston said studies have shown that youth gun safety courses are not effective at preventing violence. "There are many other sports that kids can get involved in," he said.
Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition, a gun-rights group, called it "incomprehensible and silly" not to accept money from "a charity that's designed to foster the safe and responsible use of firearms."
California’s university system also received NRA funds. At least $160,000 went to the Regents of the University of California in Davis.
UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said the system's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources runs a comprehensive, statewide 4-H youth development program. The NRA grants, she said, went to 4-H shooting clubs.
"Going forward, ANR will not apply for any such grants from the NRA Foundation," Klein said.
The funds were part of more than $7 million in grants to hundreds of U.S. schools in recent years, according to the Associated Press analysis.
The news service found that few high schools have shown any indication they will follow the lead of businesses that are cutting ties with the group following last month’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Most of the public schools that received NRA Foundation money were in politically conservative areas like Placer County that voted for Donald Trump, according to the AP.
The NRA Foundation is separate from its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. The NRA Foundation website says it has awarded nearly $335 million in grant funding in support of the shooting sports. Its mission is to "serve the needs of freedom-loving Americans across this great nation."
The grants pay for youth education, law enforcement training, hunter education, conservation, firearms and marksmanship training and safety among other programs, according to the NRA Foundation's website.
The AP reported that grants often come as equipment rather than cash, with schools given rifles, ammunition, safety gear and updates to shooting ranges. Nationally, about $1.3 million was provided as cash, while $6 million was provided through equipment, training and other items.
Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow