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NRA ends silence on Conn. shootings

Says it will offer ‘meaningful contributions’

Supporters of Credo, a gun-control advocacy group, marched to a National Rifle Association office in Washington Tuesday.

JIM LO SCALZO/EPA

Supporters of Credo, a gun-control advocacy group, marched to a National Rifle Association office in Washington Tuesday.

WASHINGTON — After four days of self-imposed silence on the shooting that killed 26 people inside a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, the nation’s largest gun rights lobby emerged Tuesday and promised ‘‘to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.’’

The National Rifle Association explained its unusual absence ‘‘out of respect for the families and as a matter of common decency’’ after Friday’s shooting that left 20 children dead, all ages 6 or 7.

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The group — typically outspoken about its positions even after shooting deaths — had gone all but silent since the rampage. As it faced public scrutiny online and in person, the group left many wondering how it would respond to one of the most shocking slayings in the nation’s history.

‘‘The National Rifle Association of America is made up of 4 million moms and dads, sons and daughters, and we were shocked, saddened, and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown,’’ the organization said in a statement. ‘‘The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.’’

The group said it would have a news conference to answer questions Friday, the one-week anniversary of the shootings.

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Congressional gun-rights supporters are showing a growing willingness to consider new gun-control legislation in the aftermath of the Connecticut rampage. But they also say a comprehensive antiviolence effort must also address mental health issues and the impact of violent video games.

Among those who say they are open to the idea is Representative Mike Thompson, a former cochairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. The California Democrat is a hunter and a wounded Vietnam veteran. He’s been named to lead a Democratic task force on gun violence.

‘We were shocked, saddened, and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders.’

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Another is Republican Jack Kingston, a 10-term representative elected with strong National Rifle Association backing.

Almost immediately after the extent of carnage in Connecticut became clear, the NRA’s Facebook page disappeared. It posted no tweets. It made no mention of the shooting on its website.

None of its leaders hit the media circuit Sunday to promote its support of the Second Amendment right to bear arms as the nation mourns the latest shooting victims and opens a new debate over gun restrictions. On Monday, the NRA offered no rebuttal as 300 antigun protesters marched to its Capitol Hill office.

Yet on Tuesday, the NRA reemerged, although more slowly than normal.

After previous mass shootings — such as in Oregon and Wisconsin — the group was quick to both send its condolences and defend gun owners’ constitutional rights, popular among millions of Americans. There’s no indication that the NRA is prepared to weaken its ardent opposition to gun restrictions but it did hint it was open to being part of a dialogue that already has begun.

Its deep-pocketed efforts to oppose gun-control laws have proven resilient. Firearms are in a third or more of US households and suspicion runs deep of an overbearing government whenever it proposes expanding federal authority.

The argument of gun-rights advocates that firearm ownership is a bedrock freedom as well as a necessary option for self-defense has proved persuasive enough to dampen political enthusiasm for substantial change.

Seldom had the NRA gone so long after a fatal shooting without a public presence. It resumed tweeting just one day after a gunman killed two people and then himself at an Oregon shopping mall last Tuesday, and one day after six people were fatally shot at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August.

Since the Connecticut shootings, the NRA has been taunted and criticized at length on social media.

Offline, some 300 protesters gathered outside the NRA’s lobbying headquarters on Capitol Hill on Monday chanting, ‘‘Shame on the NRA’’ and waving signs declaring ‘‘Kill the 2nd Amendment, Not Children’’ and ‘‘Protect Children, Not Guns.’’

‘‘I had to be here,’’ said Gayle Fleming, 65, a real estate agent from Arlington, Va., saying she was attending her first antigun rally. ‘‘These were 20 babies. I will be at every rally, will sign every letter, call every congressman going forward.’’

Retired attorney Kathleen Buffon of Chevy Chase, Md., reflected on earlier mass shootings, saying: ‘‘All of the other ones, they’ve been terrible. This is the last straw. These were children.’’

‘‘The NRA has had a stranglehold on Congress,’’ she added as she marched toward the NRA’s unmarked office. ‘‘It’s time to call them out.’’

The group’s reach on Capitol Hill is wide as it wields its deep pockets to defeat lawmakers, many of them Democrats, who push for restrictions on gun ownership.

The NRA outspent its chief opponent 73 to 1 to lobby the outgoing Congress, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which tracks such spending. It spent more than 4,000 times its biggest opponents during the 2012 election.

In all, the group spent at least $24 million this election cycle — $16.8 million through its political action committee and nearly $7.5 million through its affiliated Institute for Legislative Action. Its chief foil, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, spent just $5,816.

Direct lobbying was also a mismatch. Through July 1, the NRA spent $4.4 million to lobby Congress, while the Brady Campaign spent $60,000.

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