By Edith Honan
NEWTOWN, Connecticut (Reuters) - The Connecticut town that was the site of a shooting rampage that left 20 elementary school students and six faculty and staff dead last December, appeared largely the same on Tuesday as it did a year ago.
But as students from Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School began their first full academic year at their temporary quarters in the former Chalk Hill school in nearby Monroe, residents said they feel that life had changed.
"It's like after 9/11. The world looks different. It is different," said Kris Mauro, 46, a Newtown resident. "Everybody looks the same, everybody's just as nice. But it's a different world."
Mauro said her chief frustration is that she had hoped "we'd get rid of all the guns," but that gun-rights groups have instead been emboldened since the shooting.
Last December 14, Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old who had grown up in Newtown, shot and killed his mother before shooting his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 26 people before turning a gun on himself. The sheer youth of Lanza's victims, mostly 6- and 7-year-olds, stunned the country.
The massacre inspired a package of national gun control measures in Congress as well as calls for better security in schools, including the presence of armed guards.
The bills, which included a national ban on assault weapons and expanding the use of background checks for gun purchases, were ultimately rejected after U.S. lawmakers decided they would have interfered with Americans' constitutional right to bear arms.
Several U.S. states - including Connecticut, New York and New Jersey -have passed laws tightening gun ownership requirements since the attack. Other states have expanded gun rights.
But in Newtown on Tuesday, the gun debate was secondary to hopes that kids here could have a normal school year.
"You don't forget, but you have to go forward," said Rose Scotti, 60, as she loaded groceries at a local store.
Around Newtown, a leafy and bucolic town, most of the informal memorials that once dotted the landscape here have been dismantled.
Near the Sandy Hook fire station, where anguished parents awaited news of their kids on the day of the shooting, a neighbor still hangs a sign that reads "God Bless the Families." It is accompanied by a large heart that frames 20 wooden crosses.
Some shop windows still display the green and white cards that were all over town after the shooting: "We are Sandy Hook. We choose love."
But at a local coffee shop, no one appeared to be talking about the shooting unless asked about it.
The site of the shooting is scheduled to be torn down and replaced by a new structure that still awaits formal approval. It is due to open in time for the 2016 school year and is expected to be enclosed in a high fence and be watched over by armed guards.
(Reporting by Edith Honan; editing by Scott Malone, Lisa Von Ahn, G Crosse)