Santa Fe school board President Steven Carrillo is taking heat for the board’s 5-0 vote this week to no longer accept $4,000 annually from the National Rifle Association to help fund high school ROTC programs — an action intended as a message of support for students who have voiced their fears in the wake of recent school shootings.
In an interview Thursday, Carrillo said he had received several phone calls and emails that he considers “hate mail” following the board’s decision Tuesday night to no longer accept any grants from the NRA.
Carrillo and other board members said one reason they voted on the action is because the NRA fiercely opposes more stringent gun control legislation, including restrictions on the sale and use of semi-automatic weapons — the kind of guns increasingly used in school shootings.
“This district lives in fear and self loathing and, at a time when funding is scarce, they turn away money,” one person posted on Twitter.
Some who commented online voiced support for the board, however, calling the vote brave.
The $4,000 in question, raised by local members of the organization, has helped provide equipment such as air rifles, targets and tennis shoes for junior ROTC programs. The school district budgets about $117,000 for such programs, which doesn’t include grants from other sources such as the U.S. Navy.
Two other school board members, Maureen Cashmon and Rudy Garcia, said they had received a couple of emails from Santa Feans who were disappointed in the board’s decision, which followed testimony from students, teachers, ROTC leaders and NRA members.
But Cashmon said she believes many angry people are targeting Carrillo because, as the board leader, he led the discussion and vote on the issue. Garcia agreed.
In one email, a writer called Carrillo a “vile, small-minded Marxist” and said he hopes Carrillo gets kicked off the board.
A man who said he was a military veteran told Carrillo in an email that it’s “nice to know how stupid you and the Santa Fe School Board is.”
Another asked Carrillo if he is “mentally ill … anti-American?”
And, in perhaps the most personal attack, an email writer said Carrillo’s son would be ashamed of his father for voting to reject financial support from the NRA.
“That was uncalled for,” Carrillo said.
“The climate today — I don’t think that 10 years ago people would have sent emails like this,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that people cannot engage in meaningful dialogue about this issue.”
As of Thursday, he had not received any threats, Carrillo said, adding, “That would be a horrible thing.”
Though Carrillo led the debate Tuesday night, it was board member Lorraine Price who raised the issue of rejecting NRA funds during a meeting in mid-March.
At that time, Price warned fellow board members that rejecting the funds might lead NRA supporters to “start coming after you.”
“I hope you are ready for the emails and the telephone calls and all of that stuff,” she said, “and all the ugliness that they can throw at you.”
Price, who said in March she was willing to deal with such reactions herself, was not present at Tuesday’s meeting because of an illness. But she did cast a vote by phone in favor of the action.
Several letters, emails and social media posts opposing the board’s decision say board members should replace the $4,000 with money from their own pockets.
Both Carrillo and board member Kate Noble said Tuesday that they have found private donors who can help fill the funding gap for at least two years.
Noble could not be reached for further comment Thursday.
Carrillo appeared on the Richard Eeds radio show on KTRC-AM Thursday afternoon, fielding two calls from listeners. One man told Carrillo, “I didn’t like that decision at all,” saying it shames students whose parents are members of the NRA.
Carrillo disagreed, saying the vote will provoke debate about the issue.
Another man called in to say that he supports Carrillo and the board’s decision, and he said that the people who are criticizing Carrillo shouldn’t have guns.
In response, Carrillo said that while he supports the right to own guns, “These are people I wouldn’t support having a big cache of firearms.”
The Associated Press reported in March that the NRA has given more than $7 million in grants to some 500 U.S. schools in recent years — including over $125,000 to Albuquerque Public Schools. The report said the grants go to a wide range of programs, including junior ROTC efforts, rifle teams and agricultural clubs.