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NRA news conference: Do previous actions foretell response to Sandy Hook shooting?

The nation's most powerful gun lobby will break its silence Friday — a week after a mass shooting that killed 20 children and six elementary school officials in Newtown, Conn.

During a 10:45 a.m. news conference, the National Rifle Association will address calls for tighter gun restrictions. It kicks off a round of publicity for the 141-year-old group. On Sunday, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's CEO, will appear on NBC's Meet the Press.

With a budget of $300 million and millions of members, the NRA is considered one of the most influential special interest groups in the nation. It spent more than 10 times as much on lobbying as gun control groups in 2011 and the first three quarters of 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But the NRA has been quiet since the Newtown shootings. Its website and Twitter feed went silent after the shooting. It took four days for it to issue a brief statement.

"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," it said. "The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."

Here is how the NRA previously responded to some of the most recent mass shootings.

• • •

Cleveland Elementary School, Stockton, Calif. – Jan. 17, 1989: Dead – six; five children and the shooter

Gun used: a Type 56 Assault Rifle (a Chinese copy of the AK-47)

When the NRA issued the first statement: Same day as the shootings

Initial statement: "That citizens have these and use them is not the problem. It's that criminals misuse them," NRA lobbyist David S. Marshall told the San Diego Union-Tribune, referring to the gun used by the shooter, which was bought for $400.

What NRA did next: Opposed measures to restrict a ban on assault weapons. A 1992 NRA ad called Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents "jack-booted government thugs," prompting President George H.W. Bush to quit his membership in the group.

Did anything change?: It took nearly five years, but the shooting led to the first major federal legislation on military-style assault weapons. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban was enacted in 1994, but expired in 2004.

• • •

Columbine High School, Littleton, Colo. – April 20, 1999: Dead –15, including the two shooters

Guns used: Intratec TEC-DC-9, 9mm semiautomatic handgun, two 12-gauge sawed-off shotguns and a Hi-Point 9mm carbine rifle

When the NRA issued the first statement: Same day as shootings

Initial statement: Actor Charlton Heston, who was then the NRA president, offered sympathy to the victims, but urged members to "stand in unshakable unity, even in this time of anguish."

What NRA did next: Amid calls to scrap its previously scheduled convention in nearby Denver just 12 days after the shooting, the organization canceled seminars, exhibitions and luncheons. But it didn't cancel the main speech by Heston. "We're not the rustic, reckless radicals they wish for," Heston told the 3,000 members who attended. While the organization agreed to consider some gun control proposals, it opposed others.

Did anything change?: The NRA fought an attempt by the U.S. Senate to pass a bill requiring background checks for firearms sold during gun shows. The bill passed by one vote, with then-Vice President Al Gore breaking the 50-50 tie in the Senate, but it died in a House committee. Colorado restarted a program that required background checks with firearm purchases. Another state bill failed. It would have allowed local officials to enforce a federal law that banned gun dealers from selling firearms to anyone under 20 years old.

• • •

Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va. – April 16, 2007: Dead – 33, including the shooter

Guns used: A Walther .22-caliber pistol, a Glock 19

When the NRA issued first statement: Same day as shootings

Initial statement: "The National Rifle Association joins the entire country in expressing our deepest condolences to the families of Virginia Tech and everyone else affected by this horrible tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families. We will not have further comment until all the facts are known."

What NRA did next: It cautiously supported a bill that would financially penalize a state if it failed to provide records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check, a database that tracks people who are prohibited from obtaining firearms. The Virginia Tech shooter should have been excluded from buying the weapons he used, but his mental health information wasn't entered into the database before his purchases.

Did anything change?: President George W. Bush signed the bill.

• • •

Tucson, Ariz. – Jan. 8, 2011: Dead – six, 13 injured including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Gun used: A 9mm Glock 19 semiautomatic pistol with a 33-round magazine

When the NRA issued first statement: Same day as shootings

Initital statement: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this senseless tragedy, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and their families during this difficult time. We join the rest of the country in praying for the quick recovery of those injured."

What NRA did next: Opposed efforts to pass legislation banning large-capacity ammunition magazines used in the Tucson shooting. "Despite the burdens it would put on honest Americans, (the) bill wouldn't stop a criminal from obtaining magazines that hold more than 10 rounds," the NRA said on its website. "Tens of millions of Americans own countless tens of millions of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.... Anything that common can be stolen or bought on the black market."

Did anything change?: Bills that limited high-capacity magazines and required background checks at gun shows failed.

• • •

Aurora, Colo. – July 20, 2012: Dead – 12

Guns used: An AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and at least one of two .40-caliber handguns

When the NRA issued first statement: Same day as shootings

Initial statement: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the community. The NRA will not have any further comment until all the facts are known."

What NRA did next: For weeks after the shootings, the NRA issued the same statement to media outlets: "The NRA believes that now is the time for families to grieve and for the community to heal. There will be an appropriate time down the road to engage in political and policy discussions." A statement providing more reflection was never given and by October the media had stopped asking.

Did anything change?: In the middle of a presidential campaign, the topic was hardly discussed. Neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama proposed measures to address the shootings. But in three states controlled by Democrats — California, Illinois, and New York — bills were introduced to curb the sale of guns. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives considered the possible easing of regulation on armor piercing bullets, according to the Sunlight Foundation. On Dec. 6, eight days before the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action sent out an alert to members urging them to weigh in on the ATF request, which was made after the agency received requests from unnamed sources to review its policies.

Times staff researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@tampabay.com.

NRA news conference: Do previous actions foretell response to Sandy Hook shooting? 12/20/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 20, 2012 8:46pm]
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