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Newtown marks six months since shootings with new push on guns

By Richard Weizel

Newtown, Connecticut (Reuters) - Six months after a gunman massacred 26 children and adults at an elementary school, Newtown, Connecticut, marked the day with 26-seconds of silence and an expression of frustration at the stalled progress on gun control.

Several hundred people, many struggling to hold back tears, gathered under gray skies to remember the December 14 carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the more than 6,000 other Americans who have been killed by gunfire since the school shooting.

The event was organized by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which kicked off its "No More Names" bus tour in Newtown. The group is largely funded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The next stop on the tour, titled after the reading of the list of those killed since December 14, is New Hampshire, home to U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican who has been a target of negative ads by the group for her vote against the expanded background checks for gun buyers.

"Six months ago today, my sister Victoria Soto was brutally murdered as she taught her class," said Carlee Soto, a younger sister of the 27-year-old teacher. "The pain is excruciating and unbearable but thanks to all of you and with your support we will somehow get by."

On the morning of December 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, in her bed, and then went to Sandy Hook Elementary School - a school he once attended - and forced his way inside. He killed 20 children and six adults before turning the gun on himself.

The massacre, which followed a shooting rampage at a Colorado movie theater in July that killed 12, and a shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed seven, sparked a national discussion about gun rights and how to better protect Americans from gun violence.

While states like Connecticut and New York passed a series of new gun measures, the effort to tighten gun laws, backed by President Barack Obama, failed in Washington.

Opponents, including the National Rifle Association, the nation's leading gun rights lobby, argued that the proposals would unfairly limit the rights of responsible gun owners. After the school shooting, the NRA proposed installing armed guards in schools to better protect students.

MOVING PAST TRAGEDY

Earlier this week, the Sotos and the families of other victims were in Washington, lobbying lawmakers to revive a bill to expand background checks on gun buyers, which failed in Congress in April, and an assault weapons ban that was proposed but never brought to a vote.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, and others are vowing to revive their push for new gun controls, especially expanded background checks, favored by most Americans.

"Six months ago, it was unconceivable to me that we'd be standing here today, with Congress having done nothing in the wake of 20 6- and 7-year-olds being gunned down," Murphy said.

Meanwhile, in Newtown, flags had been lowered to half-staff.

Ben Rosado, manager of Village Perk Cafe, a new coffee shop in the Sandy Hook section of Newtown, said the community was beginning to move on.

But resident Anne Smith, who was out walking her two dogs on Friday, said she was ready to move out.

"I moved here last year, but ever since the shootings it's been too gloomy and depressing," said Smith. "I don't think the community has really been able to get beyond it, and I don't know if it ever really will."

Also on Friday, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced an allocation of $750,000 to begin rebuilding the school.

(Writing by Edith Honan; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Kevin Gray and Jackie Frank)

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