One week after the U.S. school shootings that killed 26 people — 20 of them young children — the nation's most powerful gun-rights lobby was finally addressing the issue Friday morning as Congress rushes to consider tighter restrictions on firearms.
The 4.3 million-member National Rifle Association may be facing its toughest challenge in the wake of national horror over the deaths of children 6 and 7 years old, many of them shot multiple times and at close range by high-powered rifle.
The NRA was silent for days after the shootings in Newtown, taking down its Facebook page and keeping silent on Twitter. Unlike its actions in the wake of many other mass shootings, the group did not put out a statement of condolence for the victims while simultaneously defending the rights of gun owners.
But the group promised a "major news conference" Friday at 10:45 am.
The NRA has re-activated its Facebook account, and its Twitter feed now warns supporters that "President Obama supports gun control measures, including reinstating an assault weapons ban." The group also announced that its top lobbyist, Wayne LaPierre, planned to appear Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" program.
"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 group said in its first public statement since the shootings, released Tuesday. "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 group also promised "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again" and announced plans for Friday's news conference on what is the last real work day before Washington scatters for the long Christmas holiday.
Since the Newtown shooting, President Barack Obama has demanded "real action, right now" against gun violence and called on the NRA to join the effort. His administration has been moving quickly after several congressional gun-rights supporters said they would consider new legislation to control firearms.
Obama has said he wants proposals on reducing gun violence that he can take to Congress by January, and he put Vice President Joe Biden, a gun control advocate with decades of experience in the Senate, in charge of the effort.
The president said in a video released early Friday that the White House has received an outpouring of support for stricter gun laws over the past week. "We hear you," he said.
A "We the People" petition on the White House website allows the public to submit petitions. Nearly 200,000 people have urged Obama to address gun control in one petition, and petitions related to gun violence have amassed more than 400,000 signatures.
At the same time, however, gun shops across the country have reported higher sales, including of assault weapons. A spike in gun sales is not uncommon after mass shootings.
Obama has already asked Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and pass legislation that would end a provision that allows people to purchase firearms from private parties without a background check.
The president also has indicated that he wants Congress to pursue the possibility of limiting high-capacity magazines, which the 20-year-old gunman used in last week's shooting.
Obama wants to build on a rare national mood after years of hesitation by politicians across the country to take on the issue of gun violence — and the NRA.
"I've been doing this for 17 years, and I've never seen something like this in terms of response," said Brian Malte, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, based in Washington, D.C. "The whole dynamic depends on whether the American public and people in certain states have had enough."
The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism released a report Thursday showing that the Newtown shooting has led to more discussion about gun policy on social media than previous rampages. The report says users advocating for gun control were more numerous than those defending current gun laws.
A Pew Research Center survey taken Dec. 17-19, after the shooting, registered an increase in the percentage of Americans who prioritize gun control (49 percent) over gun owner rights (42 percent).
Those figures were statistically even in July. The December telephone survey included 1,219 adults in all 50 states. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Associated Press writer Philip Elliott contributed.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.