[UPDATED 5 pm Tuesday.]
The largest U.S. gun-rights organization — typically outspoken, even after shooting deaths — has gone all but silent since last week's rampage at a Connecticut school left 26 people dead, including 20 children.
The National Rifle Association's Facebook page has disappeared. The NRA has posted no tweets. It makes no mention of the shooting on its website. None of its leaders hit the media circuit Sunday to promote its support of the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment right to bear arms as the nation mourns the latest mass shooting victims and opens a new debate over gun restrictions. On Monday, the NRA offered no rebuttal as 300 anti-gun protesters marched to its Capitol Hill office.
[The NRA released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:
"The National Rifle Association of America is made up of four 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.
Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting. The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.
The NRA is planning to hold a major news conference in the Washington, DC area on Friday, December 21.]
After previous mass shootings, 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's silence this time is a signal that a change in its ardent opposition to gun restrictions is imminent.
There has been no explanation for its absence from the debate thus far.
The NRA, which claims 4.3 million members, did not return telephone messages Monday seeking comment.
Its well-funded efforts to oppose gun control laws have proven resilient. Firearms are in a third or more of U.S. 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.
The NRA's reach is wide as it spends millions to defeat lawmakers, many of them Democrats, who push for restrictions on gun ownership.
The NRA outspent its chief opponent by a 73-1 margin 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.
On direct lobbying, the NRA also was far ahead. Through July 1, the NRA spent $4.4 million to lobby Congress to the Brady Campaign's $60,000
Seldom has 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 early last week, and one day after six people were fatally shot at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August.
"The NRA's probably doing a good thing by laying low," said Hogan Gidley, a Republican strategist and gun owner. "Often after these tragedies, so many look to lay blame on someone, and the NRA is an easy whipping boy for this."
Indeed, since the Connecticut shootings, the NRA has been taunted and criticized at length, vitriol that may have prompted the shuttering of its Facebook page just a day after the association boasted about reaching 1.7 million supporters on the social media network.
Twitter users have been relentless, protesting the organization with hashtags like NoWayNRA.
The NRA has not responded. Its last tweets, sent Friday, offered a chance to win an auto flashlight.
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, saying she was attending her first anti-gun rally. "These were 20 babies. I will be at every rally, will sign every letter, call every congressman going forward."
Retired attorney Kathleen Buffon 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."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.