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NRA breaks silence, pledges to help stop massacres

By David Ingram

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Rifle Association said on Tuesday it wanted to contribute meaningfully to prevent another massacre like the Connecticut shooting, suggesting a sharp change in tone for the largest U.S. gun rights group.

"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," the organization said in a statement.

It said it plans a news conference on Friday after staying silent as a matter of common decency and out of respect for families in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a school last Friday.

"The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again," the statement said. An NRA spokesman did not immediately respond when asked to elaborate on what the contributions might entail.

The NRA is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States, partly because of its large and active membership. It uses political pressure against individual lawmakers in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures to press for loosening restrictions on gun sales and ownership across the United States while promoting hunting and gun sports.

For decades, the NRA has opposed almost all new gun control laws and regulations at national and state level.

Its leadership considers the right to own firearms an essential American freedom, spelled out in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and reinforced in a 2008 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

After the killing spree in Connecticut, the NRA has come under enormous pressure, some of it from pro-gun lawmakers allied with the association, including West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat and lifetime NRA member.

The NRA's statement was met with immediate skepticism from some advocates for gun control.

"We'll see," said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group of 750 U.S. mayors co-led by New York City's Michael Bloomberg.

Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, said that "unless this is a dramatic sea change in the way the NRA has done business, I have very little faith anything they will offer will help us take steps forward."

The percentage of Americans favoring tough gun regulations rose significantly after the massacre, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Monday.

The poll found that 50 percent of those surveyed after Friday's shootings agreed that "gun ownership should have strong regulations or restrictions." Among those surveyed before the killings the number was 42 percent.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday that gun rights groups did not have to be an obstacle to reducing gun violence.

"What the president hopes, as you heard him say last night, is that everyone steps back and looks at a situation that has to be addressed, and thinks broadly and thoughtfully about how we can move forward," Carney said.

The White House had no comment on the NRA's statement.

(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Howard Goller and Christopher Wilson)

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