WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama carefully avoided overtly criticizing the nation's largest pro-gun lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, on Wednesday, saying only that he hopes the group's members "will do some self-reflection" following the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last Friday. The president made the comments at a press conference announcing a joint task force led by Vice President Joe Biden to consider ways to reduce gun violence.

"The NRA is an organization that has members who are mothers and fathers, and I would expect that they've been impacted by this as well," Obama said. "And hopefully they'll do some self-reflection." He then pivoted to stress that no single gun law can "solve all these problems."

The president's comments about the NRA were subdued compared to those of a number of prominent lawmakers, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and conservative Democrat Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.), who have decried the powerful lobbying group's influence on members of Congress.

The NRA "has spent untold millions of dollars instilling fear in our citizens and our politicians," Yarmuth said at a news conference Monday, adding that the NRA, "wants us to believe that the best protection against the irresponsible and lethal use of guns is for everyone to be armed."

By opting not to address the NRA's influence on gun policy in more strident terms, Obama signaled that he is still optimistic about bringing the group to the table, something the administration has had trouble doing in the past.

For its part, the NRA has announced it will hold a press conference Friday to announce plans for "meaningful contributions" the group is willing to make to prevent mass shootings from happening in the future. It remains to be seen what those contributions might be, but there are indications that it believes the shooting was a mental health issue as much as it was a gun issue.

Obama's decision to meet with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) on Tuesday is also a telling indicator of how the president may plan to work with the NRA. A lifetime member of the NRA, Manchin signaled earlier this week that he would be willing to consider reforming gun laws in order to prevent another tragedy. He also said the NRA "must have a seat at the table" for any broader discussions of proposed laws or increased regulations.

This middle-ground position has helped Manchin emerge as a potentially influential go-between for the White House and the NRA. Following their meeting, Manchin said "I know my friends at the NRA and those who support our Second Amendment rights will participate [in the broader conversation about gun control] because I know that their hearts are aching for the families in Newtown, just like all Americans.”

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  • Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)

    "I wish to God she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," Gohmert said of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/louie-gohmert-guns_n_2311379.html"><em>Fox News Sunday</em></a>. He argued that shooters often choose schools because they know people will be unarmed.

  • Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)

    "If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would be an opportunity to stop an individual trying to get into the school," he <a href="http://www.wtop.com/610/3162096/Gov-Is-it-time-to-arm-school-officials">told WTOP's "Ask the Governor" show</a> Tuesday, warning that Washington may respond to such a policy with a "knee-jerk reaction."

  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) & State Sen. Frank Niceley (R)

    Gov. Haslam says he will consider a Tennessee plan to secretly arm and train some teachers, <a href="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/12/tennessee-armed-teachers.php">TPM reports</a>. The legislation will be introduced by State Sen. Frank Niceley (R) next month. "Say some madman comes in. The first person he would probably try to take out was the resource officer. But if he doesn’t know which teacher has training, then he wouldn’t know which one had [a gun]," Niceley told TPM. "These guys are obviously cowards anyway and if someone starts shooting back, they’re going to take cover, maybe go ahead and commit suicide like most of them have."

  • Oklahoma State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) & State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R)

    State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) <a href="http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=336&articleid=20121217_336_0_OKLAHO168827">told the Tulsa World</a> he plans to file legislation that would bring guns into schools, calling their absence "irresponsible." “It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended – to allow mad men to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it," he said. "I’ve been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it’s an idea whose time has come." Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) told the Tulsa World that teachers should carry concealed weapons at school events. "Allowing teachers and administrators with concealed-carry permits the ability to have weapons at school events would provide both a measure of security for students and a deterrent against attackers," he said.

  • Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R)

    Baxley, who once sponsored Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, <a href="http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2012/12/17/florida-legislator-allow-guns-in-schools/">told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune </a>that keeping guns out of schools makes them a target for attacks. “We need to be more realistic at looking at this policy," he said. "In our zealousness to protect people from harm we’ve created all these gun-free zones and what we’ve inadvertently done is we’ve made them a target. A helpless target is exactly what a deranged person is looking for where they cannot be stopped.”

  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)

    At a Tea Party event Monday night, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/rick-perry-guns-in-schools_n_2322185.html">Perry praised a Texas school system that allows some staff to carry concealed weapons to work</a> and encouraged local school districts to make their own policies.

  • Minnesota State Rep. Tony Cornish (R)

    Cornish <a href="http://www.kdlt.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=22736&Itemid=57">plans to introduce legislation that would allow teachers to arm themselves</a>, according to the AP.

  • Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson (R)

    In an email <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/oregon-state-rep-dennis-richardson-teacher-guns-stopped-connecticut-shooting_n_2317444.html?ir=Education">obtained by Gawker</a> and excerpted below, Richardson tells three superintendents that he could have saved lives had he been armed and in Sandy Hook on Friday: <blockquote>If I had been a teacher or the principal at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and if the school district did not preclude me from having access to a firearm, either by concealed carry or locked in my desk, most of the murdered children would still be alive, and the gunman would still be dead, and not by suicide. ... [O]ur children's safety depends on having a number of well-trained school employees on every campus who are prepared to defend our children and save their lives?</blockquote>

  • Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett

    "And I'm not so sure -- and I'm sure I'll get mail for this -- I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing," Bennett, who served as education secretary under Ronald Reagan, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/bill-bennett-education-secretary-connecticut-shooting_n_2311774.html">told <em>Meet the Press</em> Sunday</a>. "The principal lunged at this guy. The school psychologist lunged at the guy. It has to be someone who's trained, responsible. But, my god, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think you ought to."