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Signs of evolving US gun debate after school tragedy
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Dec 17, 2012

US gun lobby silent on social media after shooting
Washington (AFP) Dec 17, 2012 - The powerful US gun lobby has turned silent on social media, apparently suspending its Facebook page, after last week's school massacre that took the lives of 20 small children and six adults.

The Facebook page for the National Rifle Association, which boasted on Twitter last week that it had 1.7 million "likes," was unavailable Monday.

The NRA, one of the most influential lobby groups in Washington, has been the target of intense criticism for its stand on easy gun regulations, blamed in attacks including the horrific slayings last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut.

On Facebook, the NRA presence was reduced to several small fan pages and closed groups.

On Twitter, the main NRA account with some 63,800 followers has been silent since a tweet Friday about a giveaway. The group had been previously active on Twitter, tweeting news stories about weapons including one which said Florida was nearing one million permits for concealed weapons.

The trade publication AdWeek, which was among the first to report the missing Facebook page, said the gun lobby group appeared to want to avoid debate on its pages.

"Facebook news feeds and Twitter streams have been inundated with debate about whether the nation's politicians should enact federal gun-control legislation in reaction to the recent string of mass shootings," AdWeek said.

"The conversation has ranged from typically political to thoughtful to downright ugly."

On Twitter, pro- and anti-gun control proponents traded tweets, many using the #NoWayNRA hashtag.

"The 'right to bear arms' is not more important than a child's right to grow up," one Twitter user wrote.

But another tweeted: "when the politicians who kill babies, arm cartels & radical Jihadists and spend us to oblivion give up their guns, I will too."

Also keeping a low profile Monday was another major gun lobby, the National Sport Shooting Foundation, which ironically has its national headquarters in Newtown, a few miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

An AFP reporter who went to its offices was shooed away by a security guard in the parking lot. It appeared no one was inside the building, outside of which a large US flag flew at half mast.

In a statement posted Friday on its website, and still there on Monday, the foundation said: "Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this horrible tragedy in our community."

"Out of respect for the families, the community and the ongoing police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment or participate in media requests at this time."

The website nevertheless still offered visitors a cornucopia of information on such topics as firearms safety, "how to find (shooting) ranges in every state" and giving a gun as a Christmas gift.

Last week's crime, in which Adam Lanza, 20, carried a high-powered, military style rifle and two handguns, may have spurred change in the political landscape regarding rules on weapons ownership.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California promised to introduce a bill to ban assault weapons on the very first day of the next Congress, January 3.

And on Monday, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut called for a broad commission that could bring opponents on the issue together to discuss curbing gun deaths.

New signs emerged Monday of an evolving US gun law debate, with several top lawmakers appearing more open to stiffening controls on firearms after the Connecticut school massacre.

Rising demands for stricter gun control laws, in a nation where bearing arms is a constitutional right, came a day after President Barack Obama told grieving relatives of 26 people killed Friday that such tragedies "must end."

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has a reputation as a pro-gun politician, said lawmakers will this week begin debate how to "change laws and culture."

Reid did not mention outright whether the chamber would consider new legislation to ban certain assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as has been proposed by prominent Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, from conservative West Virginia, who once blasted away at a copy of proposed global warming legislation with a gun in a political ad, also seemed to sense a shift.

"Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered," he said on MSNBC, sketching over the fact that thousands of US kids die in gun violence.

Manchin, a hunter with an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby -- a measure of his pro-firearm voting record -- suggested a renewal of the assault weapons ban.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a rising star of his party and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, also appeared to be ready to take another look at current gun laws and restrictions.

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant was quoted by the Hill newspaper website as saying that his boss, while remaining a supporter of the right to bear arms, wanted to see a "serious and comprehensive study of our laws to find new and better ways to prevent any more mass shootings."

Many Republicans and conservative Democrats were yet to weigh in on the demands for more gun control.

Any legislative push would likely face a major challenge from lobby groups like the NRA, which has yet to comment on the killings, and political momentum could ebb as memories of the massacre fade.

The White House said stricter gun laws were part of the solution, but not the only one, and also pointed to better mental health education and treatment.

"I don't have a series of proposals to present to you," White House spokesman Jay Carney said, when pressed by reporters to explain what the president had meant during his tender eulogy for the slain children.

"I will simply point you to what the president said last night about moving forward in the coming weeks. I would look for him to do that."

Carney did say that Obama still backs an extension by Congress of a ban on assault weapons, which lapsed in 2004, and could cover the kind of semi-automatic rifle used by gunman Adam Lanza in Newtown.

He described the slaughter as "exceptional in its horrendousness" and said that the answer to halting similar killings was "complex" and required more than gun laws and legislation.

That could be a hint that Obama will pursue attempts to broaden mental health coverage alongside new gun laws, amid concerns that people with unstable psychological conditions find it too easy to get guns.

Despite Obama's urgency in his speech on Sunday night, in which he warned America had not done its duty to protect its children, Carney declined to rank the priority gun control would hold in the president's second term.

In New York however, Mayor Michael Bloomberg demanded immediate action to limit the approximately 30,000 deaths caused by firearms in America every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Last night, the president said he would use whatever powers his office holds to address this violence. It is critical that he do so," Bloomberg said.

"Words alone cannot heal our nation, only action can do that," he said, urging Congress to impose a criminal background check for all gun sales, to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines and make gun trafficking a felony.

He also called on Obama to use his executive powers to require the federal government to send all necessary records on felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill to the national criminal background check system.

"The president, with a simple stroke of his pen... can assure the federal government of compliance with this provision."


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