WASHINGTON - Hundreds of demonstrators swarmed the Capitol Hill office of the National Rifle Association on Monday to denounce the powerful lobby and push for new gun controls in response to Friday's killing of 27 people, including 20 elementary school children, in Newtown, Conn.
Chanting "Shame on the NRA," the protesters marched from Spirit of Justice Park to the NRA offices near the Capitol. After observing a moment of silence, the protesters read off the names of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims, including those of the 20 children who were killed. They then read model responses from an NRA questionnaire given to politicians in order to grade them on their adherence to the NRA's policies.
"We're here because, quite frankly, the NRA has blood on its hands," said Josh Nelson, who helped organize the protest for CREDO Action, a liberal activist group. Organizers said more than 200 people attended.
People carried signs that said "I support the Second Amendment - I also support a ban on assault weapons" and "Arms are for hugging: Gun control now."
"The National Rifle Association is a powerful lobby that purports to represent gun owners," Becky Bond, political director of CREDO, said in a written statement. "But in reality, it represents the deadly interests of arms dealers and gun manufacturers. It's time for the NRA's top lobbyists to stand down and stop trying to prevent Congress from enacting sensible gun control laws that could save lives."
A call to the NRA's headquarters in Fairfax County, Va., wasn't returned.
Midway through the demonstration, a shouting match broke out between a gun owner and some protesters, and reporters and TV crews peeled off to cover it.
"Quite frankly, I'm tired of the argument being one-sided," Larry Ward, 40, told reporters. "It breaks my heart what happened in Connecticut. . . . But the truth is, there is more than the gun-control answer for this problem."
Ward, who said he works for a political media company, argued that the Newtown killings could have been stopped if a principal or teacher had been allowed to carry a concealed weapon.
"This is not the Wild West!" someone told him.
"It's not the Wild West," Ward agreed. "But the truth is there are people with guns. It doesn't matter how many laws you put on the books, guns are out there. Bad people are going to get guns, and when they go to attack people or children in a school or a business, people should have a right to defend themselves."
Monday's hastily organized demonstration was almost certainly a prelude for what's to come after 27 people were killed in Newtown, with many saying that the school shooting could become a tipping point in the national debate over firearms.
Sen. Mark Warner, who became one of the most popular governors in Virginia as a moderate Democrat who supported gun rights, said the status quo is no longer acceptable.
"There's got to be a way to put reasonable restrictions, particularly . . . these fast clips of ammunition," Warner, who has an A rating from the NRA, said at a meeting in Richmond.
But Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, R, told reporters it was "way too early" to say whether gun-control laws were needed.
"I still can't quite come to terms with it," he said of the shootings. "My wife and I sat in front of that TV just sobbing on Friday. Having five children . . . I just cannot imagine the evil and horror that occurred in that classroom."
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.