Pro-gun organizations and politicians usually quick to counter calls for gun control in the wake of massacres involving assault-style weaponry have remained largely silent after Friday's Sandy Hook massacre, for the moment at least ceding their role in a vigorous gun control debate raging across the country.
On Friday, a 20-year-old Newtown, Conn., resident named Adam Lanza took a high-powered rifle from his mother's arsenal, killed her, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Once there, Mr. Lanza, a socially awkward "Goth" who has been described by family as being on the autism spectrum, forced his way into the school and, without uttering a word, killed 20 first graders at close range and six school staff attempting to shield the children.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh criticized gun control proponents as early as Friday for trying to exploit the tragedy for political gain, a tack that struck an awkward note in a country where even pro-gun rights Americans paused to consider the implications of America's long-running affinity for guns.
When David Gregory, host of NBC’s "Meet the Press," sent out 31 invitations to pro-gun Senators in the new Congress to talk about the issue on Sunday, no takers emerged. The Shooting Sports Foundation, a pro-gun rights group headquartered just a few miles from where the shootings took place, also remained silent, as did the National Rifle Association.
With the national gun lobbying voices quiet, some conservative bloggers reminded readers of several instances in recent years when legal gun carriers thwarted gunmen intent on killing many people. In Portland, Ore., one concealed weapons owner claims he brandished his gun after alleged mall shooter Jacob Roberts opened fire. According to the man, Roberts, whose rifle was jamming, fled the scene after seeing the gun and minutes later shot himself.
But even on the blog of Eugene Volokh, a Russian-born UCLA law professor whose article "The Commonplace Second Amendment" has been cited in recent court rulings favoring gun rights, commenters sounded less partisan than thoughtful in response to a blog entry where Mr. Volokh acknowledged no one knows if arming more Americans in anticipation of mass shootings would ultimately save lives.
"A decade ago, or so, there were a few high school shootings," writes commenter Joe JP. "My interest would include why they occurred at that time, particularly since there didn't seem to be some novel change in the law or presence of guns. Why are we having another slew of cases now as compared to five years ago? Is this a cyclical thing?"
After Friday’s massacre in Connecticut became the 7th major mass shooting in the US this year, police later Friday arrested a Cedar Lake, Ind., man who owned 47 guns, after he threatened to go to a local elementary school and open fire.
On Sunday, a man in Newport Beach, Calif., fired 50 shots in a mall parking lot, hurting no one. In July, a college dropout proclaiming he was "The Joker" opened fire on a midnight screening of a "Batman" move in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 people and injuring 58, many of them seriously.
Previous massacres, including the Aurora shootings, have barely budged American support for the Second Amendment, which the Supreme Court in recent years has ruled applies to Americans armed to defend themselves and their homes. But some polls suggest a majority of Americans do support some gradual restrictions on gun ownership.
Sensing a pause from pro-gun rights groups and individuals, pro-gun control advocates like Huffington Post columnist Robert Cavnar, a licensed gun owner, noted that "the conversation has finally begun."
"The age and innocence of the victims in this massacre, coming right on the heels of the Oregon shootings and the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide, have finally caused the self imposed discussion moratorium, enforced by the millions of dollars invested by the NRA and gun manufacturers, to be ended," he writes. As proof, he says, "The NRA has uncharacteristically gone subterranean since the shooting, and its website is completely silent on the matter."
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) of Texas became the only national voice to wave the Second Amendment banner in the wake of the shootings. He told Fox News' Chris Wallace on Sunday that the massacre could have been averted had the principal been heavily armed.
After saying mass killers tend to choose gun-free zones as places to attack, he noted, "Chris, I wish to God [slain principal Dawn Hochsprung] had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out … and takes him out … before he can kill those precious kids."