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NRA's Sandy Hook press conference: What can it say?

On Friday, the National Rifle Association will hold a rare news conference – a sign that the Sandy Hook massacre has put the gun-rights organization in a tough position.

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“The NRA is between a rock and a hard place because kids were involved,” says Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “The one thing the NRA must do is at least look like it’s a willing partner in this conversation.”

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At his news conference Wednesday, Obama was given an opportunity to reach out to the NRA, but instead of appealing to its leaders, he addressed its members. 

“The NRA is an organization who has members who are mothers and fathers, and I would expect that they’ve been impacted by this, as well,” he said. “And, hopefully, they’ll do some self-reflection.”

Proponents of gun control point to a survey taken last May by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, which found that 69 percent of NRA members and 85 percent of non-NRA gun owners support background checks for gun sales at gun shows. This so-called “gun-show loophole” is high on the list of measures gun-control advocates are hoping will come out of Obama’s new push for action.

Mr. Luntz, who conducted the poll for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said the poll showed that gun-owners believe that Second Amendment rights and keeping guns from criminals are “complementary, not contradictory.”

Gun-rights proponents say that closing the gun-show loophole would make an almost imperceptible dent in unlawful gun transfers – less than 1 percent, says Mr. Feldman, the former NRA official.

The NRA is expected to raise the complex issues that surround mass shootings, including mental health, law enforcement, and American culture. The organization may also point out that the weapons allegedly used by Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old shooter who burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, were legally acquired by and registered to his mother (whom he also murdered). They also would not have been covered by the assault-weapons ban that was in place between 1994 and 2004.

But one element that is relevant is the high-capacity magazines he had – which could have been covered by the assault-weapons ban. The former ban covered magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition, but only covered those manufactured after the ban went into effect.

“So people who say, ‘Let’s ban magazine capacity,’ I don’t know what they’re thinking,” says Feldman. “There are way in excess of 100 million high-capacity magazines already out there.”

He continues: “If we focus on the gun, we miss the opportunity to focus on the problem, which is how to keep the guns out of Adam’s hands. We have to ask the right questions.”

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