“The militarization of the kids, especially vulnerable kids, is what bothered me,” said Ms. [Deborah] Teal, who added that some students at her former school had started an unsuccessful petition to end the marksmanship program.
The program remains at nearby Santiago High School, in Garden Grove, where it has enjoyed support.
Michael H. Manney, a J.R.O.T.C. instructor at Santiago, wrote to the N.R.A. Foundation this year to say that the marksmanship program had helped draw more students into J.R.O.T.C. and made weapons training available to disadvantaged students who might otherwise have had no one to show them how to handle weapons safely.
“Ultimately, we wish to foster esprit de corps among cadets and the community by providing foundational training of firearms handling and use, which prepares young men and women for careers in law enforcement, department of corrections and military,” he wrote in an N.R.A funding application.
The issue of public schools’ receiving direct funding from the N.R.A. Foundation has at times left districts struggling to navigate the optics.
Emails show the J.R.O.T.C. program at East River High School in Orlando, Fla., dealing with headaches in 2020 over how to receive and process N.R.A. money through the school district without attracting controversy. The school’s J.R.O.T.C. instructor, Steven Celeste, proposed a solution to his colleagues that is often used in other districts: sending money through an entity that is not formally part of the school.
“We just have to ensure their grant money goes to the Booster Club Fund and not the School Fund … too much political backlash involved for us and the school,” he wrote.
Mr. Williams, the J.R.O.T.C. instructor in Cape Coral, said the school was more than willing to openly promote the N.R.A. at its competitions in exchange for the funding it received.
“The N.R.A. Foundation, specifically, is probably the most important resource we have in J.R.O.T.C. for our equipment,” he said.
The lack of objection from parents, students and educators over the program is a reflection of how many lessons students take away from marksmanship training that go far beyond shooting, Mr. Williams said.
“What we tell these kids all the time is, ‘Hey, it’s really great if you improved your score, but what we really want you to do is take away some values. We want you to take away some traits that you can apply to real life,’” he said. “Focus, concentration, self-discipline and self-control. That’s what a shooter takes away from marksmanship.”