WASHINGTON -- The National Rifle Association on Tuesday broke its silence over the Newtown, Conn., tragedy just enough to say it would offer "meaningful contributions" aimed at preventing another mass-shooting incident.
Faced with a crescendo of calls for gun control in the wake of last week's Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which a gunman armed with a Bushmaster AR-15 .223 semi-automatic rifle killed 20 children and six adults, the NRA said it was not commenting "as a matter of decency" while families mourned and the police investigation continued.
But the nation's premier advocacy and lobbying organization for gun owners said in a statement: "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."
In the statement, the group said it "is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again." It did not elaborate on what those "contributions" might entail, or whether it would sit down with President Barack Obama and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss an updated assault weapons ban to be introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and the proposal of Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to expand background checks for individuals purchasing guns.
The group said it would hold a news conference on Friday. NRA director of public affairs Andrew Arulanandam did not respond to an email request for further explanation.
The NRA has been an implacable foe of gun control, seeing even limited proposals such as last year's requirement that border-state firearms dealers report multiple semi-automatic rifle purchases to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as threats to Second Amendment rights.
"They are an effective lobbying machine because a consistent portion of their membership makes the calls, talks to members (of Congress) and shows up at their town meetings," said Josh Sugarmann, a Newtown, Conn., native who is director of the Violence Policy Center and author of a book "NRA: Money, Firepower and Fear." Members "follow directions from the NRA without question. That's their greatest asset."
That's a far cry from the group's heyday in 1994 when it was widely credited with winning control of the House and Senate for Republicans midway through Democratic President Bill Clinton's first term. The Republican sweep came just two months after Congress approved Feinstein's original assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.
Dan Freedman can be reached at 202-263-6400 or at the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.