HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The gun industry's Newtown-based national trade association and lobbying organization has received a $2.4 million federal grant to promote gun locks and firearm safety, an award the group says is its first under the administration of President Barack Obama.
For a group that became a regular object of protests following the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings, the grant is an indication it's beginning to come in from the cold.
"I don't know the politics of this, but it's a start," said Steve Sanetti, president and chief executive of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
The offices of the NSSF are only a few miles away from the school where a gunman killed 20 students and six educators. In the months after the massacre, demonstrators used the site as a backdrop to demand tougher gun laws. NSSF, meanwhile, considered leaving town because of hostility from some critics and worries that its connection to the town might undermine its work promoting hunting and shooting sports.
Elected officials who helped rally the effort for new gun laws after the shootings say they still differ with NSSF on the need for gun control, but they can get behind the foundation's work on gun safety.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat whose district includes Newtown, congratulated the foundation on its grant and said firearm safety education and secure storage are vital in preventing gun violence. She said in a prepared statement that gun locks are one component of gun safety.
"We need a comprehensive strategy that includes expanding criminal background checks for all commercial gun sales, dedicated federal law to combat gun trafficking and a strong commitment to mental health services," Esty said.
The grant was the result of a competitive process, according to the Department of Justice. It will support the NSSF's work to distribute locks and cables that can be used with guns to prevent them from being loaded or fired.
The debate over gun policy is typically between gun rights backers, who insist safety trumps restrictions on gun ownership, and gun control advocates who seek stricter rules such as waiting periods and background checks to screen out convicted criminals and those with a history of mental illness.
Guns belonging to Nancy Lanza, the mother of Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza, were purchased legally and were accessible to him.
"If this woman had taken the proper security measures and had kept them from her son this terrible tragedy never would have happened," Sanetti said. "Expanded background checks and waiting periods don't work."
Pat Llodra, Newtown's first selectman, said she favors efforts to reduce gun use by those who should not have access.
"In and of itself, it may not be an initiative that makes a big difference," she said. "I prefer gun control but I will also support gun safety."
However, the Newtown Action Alliance and Coalition to Stop Gun Violence have begun a petition campaign asking the Justice Department to cancel the grant. It says the NSSF lobbies against "any and all reforms" that would protect children from unauthorized access to guns.
While Sanetti said it was the first grant under the Obama administration, the industry group received about $89 million between 2002 and 2008 in congressional earmarks.