The National Rifle Association, the largest gun-rights organization in the U.S. that is typically outspoken even after shooting deaths, is emerging from its silence following last week's rampage at a Newtown, Conn., school left 20 students and six school staff dead.
The NRA's Facebook page disappeared until Tuesday, when the group relaunched its page posting an official response to the school shooting and announcing a press conference.
The NRA's statement attempted to explain its silence.
"We were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown," read the statement, adding that the group is made up of four million moms, dads, sons and daughters. "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 press conference will be held on Friday in Washington, D.C.
The association also posted no tweets following the shooting, until Tuesday when it sent out a link to its statement.
Until Tuesday, the group made almost no mention of Friday's shooting on its website.
The gun-rights organizations' daily online broadcast NRA News has continued to produce content sympathetic to Newtown victims, but slanted toward defending the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Cam Edwards, during his Friday show Cam & Company, said he didn't think the issue was "parenting, or Hollywood, or guns, or rap music, or young men" but rather what he called the "foundational stuff," such as "a lack of love, a lack of empathy for others, an apathy."
Canadian firearms group blames media
A Canadian firearms group that describes itself as "the voice of the sport shooter and firearms enthusiast in Canada" has slammed media coverage for inciting mass shootings.
"The media message is too clear – if you kill children, you can make the president cry on TV," wrote the Canadian Shooting Sports Association in its Tuesday e-newsletter, which blamed news outlets for making mass shooters infamous.
The group called for studies to "determine how this coverage resonates with other mentally ill attention-seekers."
"Until we take pains to identify a possible correlation," the newsletter reads, "exasperated politicians will continue to pretend that gun control is the ticket."
"Regardless of where we stand on any of these issues, we're all trying to make sense of what happened today," he said.
On Monday during an interview with NRA News's Ginny Simone, conservative columnist John Fund said "we can't allow this time to cloud our judgment" and "this mass shooting thing is a mental health phenomenon as much as anything."
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.
$24M spent in 2012 presidential election
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 proved 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-defence 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 73-1 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 US 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.
No tweets since Friday
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.
'These were 20 babies. I will be at every rally, will sign every letter, call every congressman going forward.' —Gayle Fleming
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."