Powerful gun group breaks silence on US massacre

NEWTOWN, Connecticut (AP) -  

The White House said President Barack Obama supports reinstating an assault weapons ban as the United States wrestled with the treacherous issue of gun control in the aftermath of an elementary school massacre. With the debate sharpening, the country's most powerful gun rights group broke its silence over the shooting and promised "to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."
 
In the Connecticut town where the shooting occurred, funerals were held Tuesday for two more of the tiny fallen, a 6-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl, the latest in a long, almost unbearable procession of grief. A total of 26 people -- 20 children and six adults -- were gunned down at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S history. The gunman also killed his mother in her home before committing suicide as police arrived at the school.
 
Classes resumed Tuesday at all Newtown's schools except for Sandy Hook. The students who survived the Sandy Hook shooting will return to class in January after the winter break in the neighboring town of Monroe at a school that was closed last year. Volunteers and town officials have been making the Chalk Hill School safe and suitable for them, the Connecticut Post reported.
 
Students at Newton High School said they didn't get much work done Tuesday and spent much of the day talking about the terrible events of last Friday, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza, clad all in black, broke into Sandy Hook Elementary and opened fire on students and staff.
 
"It's definitely better than just sitting at home watching the news," said sophomore Tate Schwab. "It really hasn't sunk in yet. It feels to me like it hasn't happened."
 
At St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, back-to-back funerals were held for little James Mattioli, who especially loved math and recess, and Jessica Rekos, who loved horses and had asked Santa for new cowgirl boots and hat.
 
The tragedy continued to reverberate around America as citizens and lawmakers debated whether Newtown might be a turning point in the often polarizing national discussion of gun-control.
 
The most powerful supporter of gun owners, the National Rifle Association, broke its silence Tuesday, four days after the school shooting. After a self-imposed media blackout that left many wondering how it would respond to the killings, it said in a statement that its members were "shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders."
 
The group -- typically outspoken about its positions even after shooting deaths -- also said it wanted to give families time to mourn before holding a news conference Friday.
 
"The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again," the organization said.
 
A former co-chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, Rep. Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, and 10-term House Republican Jack Kingston, a Georgia lawmaker elected with strong backing from the National Rifle Association, were the latest lawmakers to join the call to consider gun control as part of a comprehensive, anti-violence effort next year.
 
"Put guns on the table. Also put video games on the table. Put mental health on the table," Kingston said.
 
But he added that nothing should be done immediately, saying, "There is a time for mourning and a time to sort it out. I look forward to sorting it out and getting past the grief stage."
 
Republicans in the House of Representatives discussed the gun issue at their regular closed-door meeting Tuesday, and at least some were willing to consider gun control as part of a solution.
 
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that Obama is "actively supportive" of reinstating an assault weapons ban and would also support legislation to close the gun show "loophole," which allows people to buy guns from private dealers without background checks.
 
Obama has long supported reinstating the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, but was quiet on the issue during his first term. Obama has said he believes the Constitution's Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms.
 
The president was not expected to take any formal action on guns before the end of the year, given the all-consuming efforts to resolve tax and deficit-reduction talks and nominate new Cabinet secretaries.
 
As shares in publicly traded gun manufacturers were dropping for a third straight day Tuesday, the largest firearms maker in the United States said it is being put up for sale by its owner, which called last week's school shooting a "watershed event" in the American debate over gun control.
 
Freedom Group International makes Bushmaster rifles, the weapons thought to have been used in Friday's killings.
 
The New York-based private equity group Cerberus Capital Management -- which invests money on behalf of public employees like teachers, among other clients --
said it will sell its controlling stake in the company, while investors fled other firearms makers.
 
In Pittsburgh, Dick's Sporting Goods said it is suspending sales of modern rifles nationwide because of the shooting. The company also said it's removing all guns from display at its store closest to Newtown.
 
However, many Americans who consider firearm ownership a bedrock freedom remained opposed to tightening gun laws. 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.
 
AR-15 assault rifles -- the same rifle that gunman Adam Lanza used in Newtown -- have been flying off the shelves at gun shops across the U.S., according to Andrew Molchan, director of the Professional Gun Dealers Association. He attributed the sales boom to fears among gun owners that the weapon will be outlawed.
 
A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted over the weekend showed 54 percent in the U.S. favor tougher laws, about the same as the 51 percent in favor earlier in the year. 
 
Authorities say the horrific events of Friday began when Lanza shot his mother, Nancy, at their home, then took her car and some of her guns to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary, where he broke in and opened fire, killing 20 children and six adults before turning the gun on himself.
 
A Connecticut official said the mother, a gun enthusiast who practiced at shooting ranges, was found dead in her pajamas in bed, shot four times in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.
 
The motive remained a mystery. Investigators have found no letters or diaries that could explain why Lanza, described as smart but severely withdrawn, targeted the school.
 
Even as questions lingered about the gunman's motive, appreciation for those who helped students escape him persisted.
 
Andrei Nikitchyuk's young son, a boy nicknamed Bear, was on his way to the principal's office with a classmate Friday morning when he heard a series of loud bangs that sounded like someone was slamming a door. Bear later told his dad he "saw bullets flying past." 
 
Nikitchyuk, who was in Washington on Tuesday to support the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence's push for tougher gun regulations, said teacher Abby Clements pulled his son and the boy's classmate into a nearby classroom as the shooting started. 
 
"He was saved by a wonderful teacher," Nikitchyuk said, his voice cracking slightly. "She pulled them into a classroom and barricaded that door."
 
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