The National Rifle Association publicly pledged Tuesday to “offer meaningful contributions” to avoid a repeat of the Connecticut elementary school killings -- even as it signaled to members that it will resist the return of a 1994 assault-weapons ban.
NRA News Update host Ginny Simone began a webcast aired on the group’s media site Tuesday by saying that “as the nation continues to mourn the loss of the 26 innocent victims” of the shooting, President Barack Obama has directed his Cabinet members to propose measures that would curb gun violence.
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“Measures that would likely include the assault-weapons ban because word from the White House is that the ban remains a commitment of the president,” Simone said, characterizing it as “a ban we all know was a failed experiment from the start.”
The dual messages are reminders of the difficultly lawmakers likely will face as they try to impose new restrictions on gun ownership and equipment even as the nation still grieves the 20 children and six women shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. Obama is to announce this morning that he is assigning Vice President Joe Biden to lead the administration’s efforts to reduce gun violence, said an administration official who requested anonymity to discuss the plan in advance of its announcement.
As the NRA girds for a legislative confrontation that it has avoided for more than a decade, its allies on Capitol Hill and elsewhere began broadening the discussion to include the issues of mental health and violent movies.
That’s a message expected to be echoed when the NRA unveils its proposals at a Friday press conference. In a webcast aired on the group’s site on Dec. 17, National Review columnist John Fund called what happened in Newtown “a mental health issue as much as anything.”
The NRA statement Tuesday ended its silence since the massacre in which the 20-year-old gunman also killed himself and his mother.
The Fairfax, Virginia-based NRA, which spent $12 million in an unsuccessful attempt to deny Obama a second term, said it was “shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown.”
“I know the people who work there, and I know they’re horrified,” Richard Feldman, a former political director for the NRA. “This is almost an existential moment for the gun community. It’s the worst-case scenario.”
Feldman said the association, which spent more than $2.2 million on lobbying in the first nine months of this year, will be “aggressive” in resisting the effort by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, to reinstate the federal assault-weapons ban. The ban expired in 2004.
Gun-rights advocates, including those who have said that some new restrictions should be considered in the aftermath of the tragedy, began pressing that case to focus beyond the weapons carried by the gunman to other causes that contributed to his crime.
“I know my friends at the NRA and those who support our Second Amendment rights will participate because I know that their hearts are aching for the families in Newtown, just like all Americans,” Manchin said in a statement afterward.
“To have a productive dialogue, we also need to address a number of critical issues, including our mental health system, safety in our schools and a media and entertainment culture that glorifies unspeakable violence,” he said.
Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association and an “endowment” member of the NRA, said “the issue should never be about guns, it should always be about whose hands the guns are in.”
The NRA began reaching out to allies on Capitol Hill Tuesday, making calls to Republican offices to gauge the temperature of their supporters, according to two House Republican aides with knowledge of the calls.
The group also used the calls to trade ideas as they formulated their response to the shooting, said the aides, who requested anonymity to speak about the calls.
The NRA, which claims 4 million members, said in its release that it had refrained from making a statement until now “out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency” in order to give time for “mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts.”
Calls for a broader discussion went beyond NRA allies.
Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, took to the Senate floor Tuesday to suggest creation of a national commission on violence to examine the role of the entertainment industry in addition to gun laws.
“Very often, these young men have had an almost hypnotic involvement in some form of violence in our entertainment culture, particularly violent video games,” he said. “Then they go out and obtain guns and become not just troubled young men but mass murderers.”
Even as Obama spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the White House’s support of a new ban on assault weapons, he said Tuesday that the president would include mental-health professionals, educators and other in conversations about curbing violence.
“As a nation we haven’t done enough to address the scourge of gun violence in this country,” Carney said. “It’s a complex problem that requires more than one solution.”
The president met Dec. 17 with Biden, senior aides and Cabinet members including Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss ways to respond to the shooting.
Obama also endorses legislation requiring purchasers at gun shows to undergo background checks, Carney said, and would look at efforts to restrict high-capacity magazines that can accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle with 30-round magazines as his main weapon, Connecticut State Police Lieutenant Paul Vance said at a Dec. 16 news conference.
“High-capacity magazines are used by soldiers fighting wars; they do not belong on our streets and in our communities,” Lautenberg said in a letter to other senators.