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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."
Last week's crime, in which the shooter 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.
Obama may struggle to deliver on massacre rhetoric
Obama's powerful address at a vigil in Newtown, Connecticut on Sunday did not specifically mention gun control.
But it was universally taken as a sign that an emboldened Obama would invest second term political capital and throw the weight of his office behind a drive to stem a rash of recent mass killings.
Emphasizing not gun control, but a duty to protect children, Obama warned America must admit it had failed its young.
"No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can't be an excuse for inaction," Obama said in surprisingly bold remarks.
"Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?"
The White House is yet to specify what Obama has in mind.
But there is talk of a drive to renew a ban on assault weapons which expired in 2004, and of limits on the availability and size of fast-firing magazines.
Some lawmakers want to make it tougher for mentally ill people to get guns, after psychologically unstable assailants were blamed for killing sprees.
Others suggest the Newtown school killings, in which 20 children aged six and seven and six adults perished, were a watershed moment.
"I think we could be at a tipping point... a tipping point where we might actually get something done," Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer told CBS Sunday.
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 gun lobby, suggested a renewal of the assault weapons ban.
The problem for Obama is that in stalemated Washington, which he has struggled to command, the politics have often proven too "hard."
While running masterful election campaigns, Obama has failed to build cross-party coalitions to enact the sweeping change he promised -- despite passing historic laws under the former Democratic Congress.
Key legislative priorities like immigration reform and action on climate change have gone nowhere, and now gun control joins them on a long to-do list for a Congress that struggles to do anything.
Obama at least has the luxury of never facing voters again and can absorb political damage from the NRA.
The group mounted a ferocious campaign against his re-election, warning members he had a "gun ban agenda" and wanted to shut down hunting and give the United Nations control over the firearms of law abiding Americans.
Democrats from conservative, rural districts eyeing re-election would fear fateful votes on any gun legislation ahead of the 2014 mid-term elections.
Many lawful gun owners sincerely believe Obama harbors deep hostility towards them. So any meaningful reform effort would require the president to find elusive partners on the Republican side of the political aisle.
Firearms enthusiasts argue that their freedoms, and right to self defense, guaranteed in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, should not be trampled over just because unstable characters commit isolated acts of evil.
Critics say Obama avoided action on guns in his first term so as not to anger conservative white Democrats in key states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, who remember his 2008 gaffe about rural Americans "clinging" to guns and God.
A serious White House push would require a powerful public relations campaign, repeated involvement from the president, and require Obama's political team to control a message in a way it has often failed to do.
There may be lessons in the past.
Ex-president Bill Clinton, despite huge pressure on fellow Democrats from the NRA, invested personal credibility to pass the Brady Bill, which required background checks for gun owners, and the assault weapons ban.
He gathered police officers working in war zone US inner cities and railed against "cop killer" bullets.
He also debunked efforts by the gun lobby to charge that curbs on the deadliest weapons equated to a ban on the freedom of Americans to own arms and hunt.
"I'm almost 50 years old," Clinton once said, "and I've never seen a deer, a duck, or a wild turkey wearing a Kevlar vest in my life. You don't need these bullets."
But despite media demands for action from cable TV hosts in liberal media capitals Washington and New York, predictions of a "tipping point" may be premature.
The argument that better gun controls may have prevented Newtown has little resonance in swathes of rural America that did not vote for Obama and media attention will quickly shift to some new outrage.
And ultimately, any action may be hostage to Second Amendment scrutiny by the Supreme Court's conservative majority.
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