NRA breaks silence after shootings, may now offer ‘meaningful contributions’

Updated 11:25 AM EST, Thu December 20, 2012

Story highlights

NRA, largely quiet on cases of gun violence, gives a statement on the Newtown shooting

National Rifle Association is regrouping as a major push in favor of gun control forms

NRA is likely working more behind the scenes than in the public, author says

Group plans to hold "a major news conference" on Friday

Washington CNN —  

As the nation sent up a collective wail of grief over the 27 people slaughtered in Newtown, Connecticut, last week, the nation’s leading gun rights lobby remained silent.

Until now.

The National Rifle Association, with roughly 4.3 million members, deactivated its Facebook page, had stopped tweeting on its Twitter account and had been issuing a “no comment” to any media outlet, including CNN, seeking a response.

But late Tuesday, the group broke that silence with 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. 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. The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again,” the group said. It plans to hold “a major news conference” on Friday and both their Facebook and Twitter presences are active again.

But despite the relative radio silence early on from the powerful lobbying group’s offices in Fairfax, Virginia, the organization is regrouping in anticipation of a massive legislative push to introduce or, in some cases, reintroduce gun control legislation, say former NRA officers and gun policy experts.

They hadn’t really spoken, some say, because they didn’t have to do so. At least, not yet.

NRA laid groundwork against new gun laws

Kristin Goss, an associate professor of public policy and political science at Duke University and author of “Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America,” said that strategy is part of the organization’s playbook after an incident such as this one.

“The typical pattern is something horrific happens. There is a national outcry, mourning. People call for a national conversation on gun control. Gun rights proponents lay low,” Goss said. “They’re used to seeing this cycle express condolences and hope the attention will shift to a new issue.”

When the NRA does speak in detail, it will do so forcefully and with the type of political sway and heft the pro-gun lobby has carefully amassed over dozens of election cycles, experts say.

“When the emotions come down, I’m sure you’ll hear the NRA address this issue. It’ll be in January when legislation is introduced. They’ll testify at hearings. You’ll hear the same kind of arguments that I’d come up with,” said Richard Feldman, who served as regional political director for the NRA during its rise to power in the 1980s and is president of a gun rights group, the Independent Firearm Owners Association.

When that happens, the group will wield the full power of its millions of members and leverage the $17 million it spent in federal races this year helping elect candidates who it considers supporters of the NRA’s mission, said policy experts.

Polls suggest public opinion may be changing

“What we’re likely to see is the NRA being a part of the behind-the-scenes conversation,” said Scott Melzer, an associate sociology professor at Albion College in Michigan and author of the book “Gun Crusaders: The NRA’s Culture War.”

That’s because in Washington’s halls of power, what takes place behind closed doors often has more impact that what happens in the public eye.

And money speaks volumes.