At least 27 people are feared dead after a masked gunman opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut today.
In July US president Barack Obama called for tougher background checks on Americans trying to buy a gun in the wake of the Batman theatre shootings in Colorado.
He also called for restrictions to keep mentally unbalanced individuals from buying weapons. Those steps "shouldn't be controversial, they should be common sense", he said.
In 1990 polls showed that a substantial majority of Americans, nearly 80%, supported stricter limits on guns.
Now Americans appear evenly divided between those who want tougher restrictions and those who want to stick with current laws.
Gun rights groups are a powerful lobby in the United States, where easy access to guns is a way of life in many of the more conservative and rural areas. The right to bear arms is guaranteed by the US constitution, alongside such basic rights as free speech and freedom of religion.
In a speech to the National Urban League civil rights group, Mr Obama said he wanted a national consensus in the effort to stem gun violence.
Despite the Second Amendment's protection of gun rights, Mr Obama said: "I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that an AK-47 belongs in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals - that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities."'
Gun control is a highly partisan issue in the US. The powerful National Rifle Association, which fights gun control and has huge sway in Congress, has successfully made the issue nearly off limits among most legislators who fear the group's opposition at re-election time.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney said in a television interview that changing the nation's laws would not prevent gun-related tragedies. He mistakenly said many weapons used by the suspect in the Colorado shooting were obtained illegally. Authorities say the firearms used to kill 12 people and injure dozens were purchased legally.
How To Help
As the shocked community begins to mourn, a number of organizations are prepared to help with counseling services, bereavement therapy and blood donations.
Find out how the area’s nonprofits are getting involved in the relief effort and how you can help:
Newtown Youth and Family Services
Newtown Youth & Family Services, Inc., a nonprofit mental health clinic, will be open Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for emergency counseling for families, community members or staff involved in the Sandy Hook Elementary school tragedy. All donations made to the organization will benefit those affected. Find out how you can help here.
Newtown Parent Connection
The Newtown Parent Connection, a nonprofit that addresses issues of substance abuse, also offers bereavement group counseling on the first Wednesday of every month. The organization told The Huffington Post that it’s going to try to bring in additional counselors to accommodate the needs of those affected by the Sandy Hook shooting. Find out how you can help here.
The American Red Cross
The American Red Cross of Connecticut immediately responded to the shooting scene and provided more than 50 units of blood platelets and plasma to the Danbury Hospital, where some of the victims were transported, spokesperson Melanie Pipkin told the Huffington Post. The aid organization has also distributed food and water to first responders and is setting up a family reception center that will provide initial grief counseling. The aid organization is not seeking blood donations at this time and doesn't anticipate any additional need. Learn about how you can help here.
Source: The Huffington Post