MANY Americans remembered the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre with a moment of silence today.
Church bells rang out in the tree-lined suburban town and up and down the East Coast at 9.30am EST (1.430 Irish time) in memory of the nation's second-deadliest school shooting, which unfolded a week ago.
At the Sandy Hook fire station, where worried parents had gathered a week earlier to wait for news about their children, a handful of people gathered in a driving rain this morning. One couple worked to steady one of the 26 trees that have been placed there as a memorial after it was blown down in the wind.
"I just don't want these kids to be forgotten just because the bells are done tolling," said John Dewees, 61, of Kensington, Connecticut, who was in downtown Newtown, where a makeshift memorial rose several feet around two Christmas trees with teddy bears, flower bouquets and printed cards with messages like "We Choose Love" and "Our Newtown Angels rest in Peace."
"What I feel is a sense of guilt because I've been a strong advocate of gun control for years," Dewees said, his eyes welling up with tears. "I wish I'd been more vocal. You wonder, had we all been, could we have averted this?"
The attack, which killed 20 first graders ages 6 and 7, shattered the illusion of safety in this close-knit town of 27,000 people where many residents knew someone affected by the attacks.
"There's just so many connections," said Jay Petrusaitis, whose son was in the same high school class as the gunman.
Churches as far south as Florida and at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, rang their bells.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy had called for residents of his state to observe the moment of silence to mark a week since a 20-year-old gunman killed his mother and then stormed Sandy Hook Elementary School. He killed a total of 28 people that day, including six school teachers and staff in a rampage that ended when he turned his gun on himself.
Laws restricting gun ownership are controversial in the United States, a nation with a strong culture of individual gun ownership. The US Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms. Hundreds of millions of weapons are in private hands.
About 11,100 Americans died in gun-related killings in 2011, not including suicides, according to preliminary data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The NRA remained quiet for four days after the Newtown slaughter, citing "common decency." It released a short statement on Tuesday saying it was "prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."
Some US lawmakers called for swift passage of an assault weapons ban.
"We have to have a comprehensive way in which to respond to the mass murder of our children that we saw in Connecticut," Biden told the group.
The gunman, Adam Lanza, used a military-style assault rifle and police said he carried hundreds of bullets in high-capacity magazines, as well as two handguns. The weapons were legally purchased and registered to his mother, Nancy, his first victim.
By yesterday, funeral services had been held for more than half of the 27 people Lanza killed last week.
Reflecting a heightened state of alert at schools across the United States, a school district near Boise, Idaho, cancelled planned assemblies at a number of its 50 schools after receiving a rash of threats that suggested "something bad" would happen today, Meridian school spokesman Eric Exline said.
In Florida, a 13-year-old student was arrested yesterday after he allegedly posted a Facebook message threatening to "bring a gun to school tomorrow and shoot everyone," said the St. Lucie County Sheriff's office on Florida's east coast.
Even non-violent gestures brought swift retribution. In Roberta, Georgia, a 16-year-old high school student was questioned by police and suspended from school indefinitely after posting on Facebook that he planned a "big surprise" at school, according to The Telegraph of Macon, Georgia.
He had planned to dress up as Santa Claus and hand out candy to classmates.