NEWTOWN, Connecticut (Reuters) - Even as they buried more victims of the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history on Thursday, residents of Newtown, Connecticut, looked for ways to pressure national leaders to restrict access to weapons.
Funerals were scheduled for half-dozen people, some as young as 6 years old, who were shot and killed on Friday by a heavily armed 20-year-old man who attacked an elementary school with an assault rifle.
Hundreds of mourners packed into a Thursday morning funeral for Benjamin Wheeler, 6, filing into the gray stone Trinity Episcopal Church past two rows of Boy Scouts who lined up outside as a flag-bearing honour guard.
The December 14 rampage in which 28 people were killed, including 20 children and the gunman, has sparked new discussion on tightening gun laws, a thorny political issue in the United States, which has a strong culture of individual gun ownership.
Vice President Joe Biden plans to convene on Thursday the first meeting of a new White House task force charged by President Barack Obama with drawing up a plan to tackle gun violence in the United States.
After the White House meeting convened by Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder is to travel to Newtown to meet privately with law enforcement officials investigating the massacre.
The National Rifle Association, the powerful firearms lobby which has long resisted any effort to restrict gun ownership, signalled this week it may be ready to bend. It said it would offer "meaningful contributions" to prevent future such massacres at an event in Washington on Friday.
The group, which kept silent for five days after the shooting, plans to continue its media push over the weekend with its CEO, Wayne LaPierre, due to appear on the television talk show "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
In Newtown, a few dozen residents met at the town library on Wednesday night to discuss ways they could influence the national debate. Senator Richard Blumenthal told the group it was time for a "seismic change" in gun policies.
"This horrific tragedy has changed America, in the way that it is ready to stop the spread of gun violence," Blumenthal said.
The shooter, Adam Lanza, used guns that were legally purchased and registered to his mother Nancy, his first victim in Friday's attack.
A funeral home outside Connecticut plans to claim her body, The New Haven Register reported, citing Connecticut's chief medical examiner, Dr. H. Wayne Carver II.
Speaking at the town library meeting, Connecticut Senator-elect Chris Murphy urged the participants to use the formerly quiet suburb's time in the national spotlight to pressure lawmakers in Washington to act.
"The most important thing is to build a movement here, to build a network," Murphy told the group, Newtown United. Both Murphy and Blumenthal are Democrats.
Democrats in Congress who favour gun control have called for quick votes on measures to ban assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, hoping that the slaying of the 6- and 7-year olds in Newtown might be a tipping point to win over more lawmakers.
The backlash against guns has not been limited to lawmakers. Retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc took down an informational website about Bushmaster rifles, the sort used in the attack. Dick's Sporting Goods pulled all guns from its store closest to the massacre in Newtown, about 80 miles (130 km) northeast of New York City.
Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP this week said it would sell the Freedom Group, the largest U.S. manufacturer of firearms, which produced the Bushmaster AR-15-type rifle used in the attack.
The town's post office has been overwhelmed with thousands of letters and packages sent by well-wishers.
"We have a lot of experience in the delivery of love," Christine Dugas, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service, said on CNN.
(Additional reporting by Eric Thayer in Newtown and David Ingram in Washington; Writing By Scott Malone; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Vicki Allen)
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