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NRA Dollars Target Vermont Schools

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The nonprofit arm of the National Rifle Association donated more than $212,000 to Vermont programs over five years, including tens of thousands of dollars to public institutions serving young people.

Among the biggest recipients was the University of Vermont, which accepted $47,986 from the NRA Foundation over a seven-year period, according to filings with the Internal Revenue Service. Northfield Middle and High School, which operates one of the state's only school-sanctioned rifle teams, also took annual donations from the NRA Foundation, according to the Fairfax, Va., nonprofit's annual reports.

Clai Lasher-Sommers, executive director of the gun-control group Gun Sense Vermont, said public schools and universities should refuse money from NRA-affiliated entities because their parent organization lobbies against gun regulations.

"When the NRA goes in to provide bullets to students, I just find that problematic," she said.

But according to Evan Hughes, a leader of Vermont's NRA chapter, the grants largely support training for women and students.

"It's interesting that the people who are supposedly for firearm safety are opposed to firearm safety training," said Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs.

A recent investigation by the Associated Press found that the NRA Foundation donated $61 million to nonprofits throughout the country from 2010 through 2016. Of that, the AP reported, $7.3 million went to schools.

A Seven Days analysis of the same IRS data found that, in those seven years, the organization gave at least $71,722 in cash grants and equipment to the federation, $34,024 to UVM's 4-H Shooting Sports program, $27,346 to the Vermont Junior Shooting Sports Association and $13,962 to UVM's Shooting Sports Club.

Top NRA Foundation Grants to Vermont Organizations, 2010 to 2016
Organization Total
Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs $71,722
University of Vermont 4-H Shooting Sports program $34,024
Vermont Junior Shooting Sports Association $27,346
University of Vermont Shooting Sports Club $13,962
Caledonia Forest & Stream Club $7,190
NOTE: Totals include cash grants, equipment and other program materials. The foundation is only required to report donations worth over $5,000 each year.
SOURCE: NRA Foundation tax filings

Nonprofits are not required to disclose donations of $5,000 or less, but annual reports posted online by the NRA Foundation show that at least 16 Vermont groups accepted money from the organization from 2012 through 2016. Recipients of those smaller grants included the Boy Scouts of America Green Mountain Council, Norwich University's Handgun Intensive Tactical Shooting Club, the Rutland County 4-H Foundation and the Northfield schools.

Following a mass school shooting last month in Parkland, Fla., the Broward County Public Schools announced that they would no longer accept funding from the NRA Foundation. Denver's public school system soon followed suit. But none of the Vermont recipients of NRA funding told Seven Days they plan to do the same.

"The University of Vermont in no way supports or opposes the political positions of the National Rifle Association," UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera said in a written statement. "The University is mindful of, and fully supports, the national discourse that aims to find sensible approaches that could help make schools and college campuses safer from the mass shootings that have plagued our country."

According to Corredera, 167 Vermont youth and 69 volunteer instructors take part in the university's 4-H shooting program. He said that the NRA money has supported "education and training on the safe and ethical use" of firearms.

The foundation also directed money to UVM's collegiate-level shooting club, which fields a trap-and-skeet team, as well as a pistol team. On its website, the club lists the NRA Foundation, the federation and a variety of weapons manufacturers and retailers — including Smith & Wesson and Century International Arms — as sponsors. The club's officers did not respond to an interview request.

Alec Collins, a UVM sophomore from Williston who has advocated for stronger gun laws, said he was "shocked" to learn that his university had accepted funding from the NRA Foundation. He said UVM should "put [its] money where [its] mouth is" and return the donations.

"It's hard not to see this money as blood money," Collins said.

Much of the NRA funding that Vermont nonprofits receive comes from in-state donors, according to Hughes. Local NRA affiliates send half the proceeds from their annual fundraising banquets to the national organization and dole out the other half to Vermont organizations.

According to Chris Ellison of the Southern Vermont Friends of NRA, those affiliates raised roughly $84,000 in 2017 — and directed $42,000 of that to Vermont nonprofits. At a meeting in Swanton last month, representatives of each local group voted to fund seven out of 20 or so grant requests for the year, Ellison said.

A banquet the southern Vermont affiliate hosted in Brattleboro on Saturday drew a sold-out crowd of 230 and netted a record $27,000, according to Ellison. "Everybody was very generous with their money," he said. "Everybody went home happy."

Those funds could soon make their way to Vermont nonprofits through direct cash grants or donations of equipment. According to the Boy Scouts' state CEO, Ed McCollin, the NRA provided $2,660 to his organization in 2015 for new shooting benches at its Cub Scout camp in Benson. The next year, the NRA donated 10 .22-caliber rifles for its scout reservation in Eden.

Jack Baroffio, who has coached the Northfield Middle and High School's rifle team for 40 years, said that the NRA has made annual contributions for roughly 15 years. He said his team usually receives around $2,500 worth of equipment, ammunition or pellets annually.

"When you're running a junior program, you never have enough money," said Baroffio, who works part-time for the Northfield school system. "I'll take all they want to give me."

Northfield principal Ryan Parkman said he was unconcerned about the origin of the money and doesn't tend to question donors' intentions. When a community member recently pledged $30,000 to the school's math program, Parkman said, "I didn't do a background check on that person."

He added, "We usually just say, 'Thank you very much.'"


The original print version of this article was headlined "NRA Dollars Target Vermont Schools"