Nancy Lanza, the mother of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza, was in many ways an ideal customer for the U.S. gun industry.
A divorced mother of two with plenty of disposable income, Lanza, 52, collected guns for home security and for target shooting, according to friends and relatives. Her personal arsenal included a Bushmaster .223, a lightweight military-style rifle, and several high-capacity semi-automatic handguns.
The Bushmaster was the weapon used by her 20-year-old son Adam to murder 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday, authorities said. Investigators discovered hundreds of rounds in high-capacity clips on Lanza's body after he reportedly committed suicide. Nancy Lanza was also killed, shot multiple times in the head by her son before he began his rampage, police said.
Military-style weapons like the Bushmaster, an AR-15 assault rifle once mostly limited to armed forces personnel and law enforcement, have spread far and wide in recent decades as a result of aggressive marketing by a gun industry fighting to maintain profitability in the face of a long-term decline in sales to a shrinking population of hunters.
Women have emerged as an important sales demographic for such weapons in the past decade, said Tom Diaz, a senior analyst with the Violence Policy Center in Washington.
"Women like her have been a heavy target of the industry," said Diaz. "They're always promoting getting women into the shooting sports."
A 2011 report by Freedom Group, a privately held company that owns Bushmaster, the top-selling military-style rifles, noted that sales to women were a "significant" source of growth.
"We believe that a meaningful percentage of recent firearm sales are being made to first-time gun purchasers, particularly women," the report stated. "We view this current increase in demand as having significant long-term benefits."
A spokeswoman for Freedom Group did not respond to a request for comment. The National Rifle Association disabled its Facebook page after the shooting, and did not respond to media inquiries. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun rights group based in Newtown, Conn., also failed to return messages requesting comment.
"Out of respect for the families, the community and the ongoing police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment or participate in media requests at this time," said a statement on the group's website.
In the wake of the Newton massacre, a growing chorus of federal and state leaders have called for increased regulation of semiautomatic weapons and the high-capacity clips that greatly increase their lethality. On Sunday, President Barack Obama said he was prepared to push hard for tougher gun laws.
A serious clampdown on military-style semiautomatics and high-capacity pistols would hit gun manufacturers hard, according to industry experts. A 2008 article by the firearms trade magazine Shooting Line described gun manufacturers as "hanging onto a single category."
"If you're heavily dependent on hunting, you are hurting," the article noted.
High-capacity pistols and military-style semiautomatic rifles, however, were on back order for many gun retailers due to “incessant consumer demand,” Shooting Line said.
Overall gun ownership rates have fallen sharply in recent decades, according to some researchers. In 1980, just over half of all American households reported owning a firearm. In 2010, just one in three American homes said they kept a gun on the premises, according to a survey by the Violence Policy Center.
“The challenge to the gun industry is this: they have completely saturated their typical customer, the white male 40 or above, so they are trying to sell that guy his third, fourth, fifth, sixth or even seventh gun," said Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
To stoke sales, the gun industry aggressively markets military-style weapons to the consumer market, using catalogs, websites and advertisements in magazines that evoke patriotic themes or stoke fears of violent crime, economic collapse and civil unrest.
"Security is more critical than ever, no matter how you define the word home. Iraq. Afghanistan. Your living room," said a 2010 advertisement for a "tactical shotgun" in Guns & Ammo magazine.
Such themes may have appealed to Nancy Lanza, who kept the guns in her home to be "prepared for the worst," her sister-in-law, Marsha Lanza, told the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday.
Another friend, Jim Leff, a musician, said Lanza enjoyed using her guns for target practice. She "was a big, big gun fan," Leff wrote on his personal blog after the shooting.
Janell Ross contributed reporting.