Private-investment firm Cerberus Capital Management LP on Tuesday announced that it will sell its stake in the company that makes the assault rifle that was used in last week's elementary-school massacre.

Amid a surge in calls for tough gun-control legislation after the murder of 20 elementary-school children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., Cerberus said it will sell its controlling interest in Freedom Group, which manufactures the Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle wielded by Adam Lanza in the horrific killings.

Cerberus said it is "immediately" starting the formal process to sell its shares in Freedom Group, which it purchased in 2006 as a financial investment.

In a statement, New York City-based Cerberus said its decision stems from Friday's attack at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level," the firm said in a news release.

" ... As a firm, we are investors, not statesmen or policy makers. Our role is to make investments on behalf of our clients. There are, however, actions that we as a firm can take. Accordingly, we have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group."

Cerberus said the decision will allow the firm to meet its obligations to its investors "without being drawn into the national debate" on gun control.

Cerberus sought to distance itself and Freedom Group from both the tragedy and the firearms debate.

"Freedom Group does not sell weapons or ammunition directly to consumers, through gun shows or otherwise. Sales are made only to federally licensed firearms dealers and distributors in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.

"We do not believe that Freedom Group or any single company or individual can prevent senseless violence or the illegal use or procurement of firearms and ammunition."

Most gun manufacturers in the United States are privately owned.

North Carolina-based Freedom Group manufactures a number of brands that are popular with the military, police, hunters and the public, including Bushmaster, Remington, Marlin, Dakota Arms, Para pistols and DPMS Panther.

The company has not commented on the Sandy Hook shootings or the rising gun-control debate.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012