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Tomorrow, the National Rifle Association will hold a news conference here in Washington, weighing in, for the first time, since last Friday's shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. In and around Newtown, a public debate about gun violence and how the nation should respond has picked up in recent days.
And as NPR's Don Gonyea reports, defenders of gun ownership across Connecticut are becoming more outspoken.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Amid the pain and the utter loss for words in Newtown this week, you also hear statements like this from long-time resident Cindy McIntyre.
CINDY MCINTYRE: Personally, I feel Very strongly now about gun control. I have never felt so strongly about it in my life. And I'm trying to do as much as I possibly can as one person. This cannot happen again.
GONYEA: McIntyre is 56. She wonders why strong federal gun controls were not enacted after shootings in Tucson, where Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was meeting with constituents, or at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee, or after the killings at a midnight movie in Colorado.
She says she was moved by President Obama's remarks at the memorial service in Newtown Sunday night. But she adds...
MCINTYRE: I voted for him in '08 with the intention that he was going to do something about it. I'm saddened that he didn't do anything about it.
GONYEA: There were also strong statements this week from Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and the state's two U.S. senators, Joseph Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal, calling for reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban. Blumenthal said it's time for, quote, "a seismic change in the nation's gun laws."
On conservative AM talk radio in Connecticut, push back against such statements came tentatively at first. But slowly, it emerged. Here's one caller.
TOM: And also, Jim, a merry Christmas to you, your family, to all your listeners...
GONYEA: The station is WTIC-AM.
TOM: As you said, gun control legislation isn't going to be the answer. Look at the laws for texting, drunk driving, drugs. People are still texting. People are still drunk driving. People are still doing drugs. Merry Christmas and happy holidays.
JIM: Merry Christmas to you, Tom. I couldn't have said it better myself.
GONYEA: Connecticut has an interesting history when it comes to guns. It's home to firearms manufacturers such as Colt which was founded here and still operates in the state. But its level of gun ownership is among the lowest in the nation. The Brady Campaign, which fights for stricter gun laws nationally, ranks Connecticut as the fifth best state when it comes to gun laws.
In Newtown, Steve Smith's granddaughter was a student at Sandy Hook Elementary. She survived. Her teacher, Victoria Soto, was among those killed. Talking to reporters this week, Smith didn't specifically reject any changes to gun laws but said...
STEVE SMITH: This was obviously a mad man. I'd like to see people focusing on the mental health issues involved in this story and stop talking about the guns. It's just a waste of time. The mental health story is the real story.
GONYEA: But in the neighboring town of Monroe, where an old school is being re-opened for students of Sandy Hook Elementary, First Selectman Steve Vavrek, a Republican, says Washington does need to take a hard look at gun violence.
STEVE VAVREK: Everybody says I believe in the right to bear arms. I don't believe in the right to bear semiautomatic guns. That has to be reformed. And I think Republican and Democrat, I think they now see that once and for all.
GONYEA: There is a lot of talk about what the National Rifle Association will say when it make its first public statement on the elementary school shootings tomorrow at a news conference in Washington.
In Oxford, Connecticut, Robert Stephenson teaches an NRA class on proper firearms use with instructions like this.
ROBERT STEPHENSON: Don't put your finger on the trigger until you're ready to shoot. Don't point it at anything you don't intend to shoot. Treat every gun as if...
GONYEA: Asked if the NRA should make any concessions on gun laws, he offers an emphatic no.
STEPHENSON: I expect them to by sympathetic to the families, to this tragedy. I expect them to fully back the Second Amendment
GONYEA: And Stephenson says, he expects the NRA to rekindle the idea of what good can come from guns.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Danbury, Connecticut.
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