WASHINGTON Manufacturers of the popular AR-15 semi-automatic rifle used by mass murderer Adam Lanza prepared for the worst Tuesday as gun control moved to the forefront of the legislative agenda in the nations capital and stores pulled the weapon from sales floors and websites.
Republicans and Democrats are in a rare lockstep, with prominent figures in each party calling Tuesday for a special commission to look into the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and recommend changes in gun control laws and the nations mental health system.
Retailers either were not selling high-powered weapons or pulling down online information on the guns used in the mass killing, as well as in shootings earlier this month in an Oregon mall and over the summer in Aurora, Colo.
Walmart, one of the largest sellers of the Bushmaster AR-15, pulled its online promotional material for the weapon.
We dont sell guns online and we have made no change to theassortment of guns we sell in our stores. We did have an informational page on walmart.com for this product, which we did take down in light of the tragic events, Kory Lundberg, a Walmart representative, told McClatchy Newspapers. However, this product was never available for purchase on the site.
Dicks Sporting Goods, a Pittsburgh-based chain that operates 511 stores nationwide, including one in Meridian on Eagle Road, announced on its website that it was halting sales of modern high-powered rifles such as the AR-15.
Out of respect for the victims and their families, during this time of national mourning we have removed all guns from sale and from display in our store nearest to Newtown and suspended the sale of modern sporting rifles in all of our stores chainwide, the company said on its website.
Dicks has not said how long the suspension will last, and its representative didnt return calls for comment.
SELLING A GUN MAKER
Meanwhile, private-equity giant Cerberus Capital Management LP announced Tuesday that it had hired a financial adviser and would begin the process of selling Freedom Group, the company that makes the Bushmaster military-style rifle, one of which was used by Lanza to kill 26 students and teachers.
It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level, Cerberus said in a statement that announced its plans to sell the lucrative company it founded as an umbrella for numerous gun makers it has acquired.
There was a clear self-interest at stake in the surprise announcement. The California State Teachers Retirement System and other big public pension funds were considering divesting their stakes in Cerberus, threatening the private-equity firms broad investments. The close look at Cerberus followed a call to boycott the Wall Street firm from former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
Makers of the AR-15 pondered the possibility that they soon might be legislated into oblivion.
Our sole business being the assault rifle, it is a concern that it will literally put us out of business, said Ken Rinkor, vice president of Tactical Arms Manufacturer Inc. in Huntersville, N.C. That is not for us to determine. If the general public decides to vote the way of banning assault rifles, then they can certainly do so.
The family-owned company near Charlotte is a specialty manufacturer of the rifles, advertising on its website that the same AR15 M4 used by the U.S. Army can be your home defense weapon of choice.
The company sells mostly to law enforcement personnel, Rinkor said.
NRA ENTERS PICTURE
On the political front, the National Rifle Association, the nations largest gun lobby, broke its silence Tuesday, saying its members were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the horrific and senseless murders in Connecticut. The NRA, which has a news conference planned for Friday, said it was prepared to offer meaningful contributions to prevent another such massacre.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have huddled with Cabinet members and senior staffers this week to begin forging a more formal response to last weeks mass shooting. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that Obama is actively supportive of assault weapon legislation reintroduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Feinstein hopes to revive a ban on such weapons that expired in 2004, and Carney said the president also supports ending a loophole that allowed Americans to skirt federal background checks by purchasing assault weapons at gun shows, where the checks may be waived.
And there are other elements of gun legislation that he could support, Carney said, adding that the president would be interested in looking at legislation on high-capacity magazines.