During emotional testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, the father of a first grader slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School fought back tears as he stressed the need to ban weapons like the assault rifle that a gunman used to kill his son, 19 other children, and 6 educators in Newtown, Conn.
Neil Heslin described how his son Jesse "was brutally murdered at Sandy Hook school on December 14, 20 minutes after I dropped him off."
"He said 'It's all going to be OK'," Heslin recalled his son saying as he was dropped off at school. "And it wasn't OK."
"Jesse was the love of my life. He was the only family I have left. It's hard for me to be here today, talking about my deceased son," Heslin said. But he added, "I have to. I'm his voice. I'm not here for the sympathy...I'm here to speak up for my son."
"There's many changes that have to happen to make a change effective," he continued. "Mental health issues, better background checks, bans on these weapons, bans on high capacity magazines - they all have to come together and they all have to work effectively...common sense tells you that."
The hearing was convened to discuss a bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which would ban military style semiautomatic weapons like the Bushmaster rifle that was used to commit the massacre at Sandy Hook. The bill would also ban the manufacture and sale of ammunition magazines in excess of 10 bullets.
Feinstein, who sponsored the original assault weapons ban that passed Congress in 1994 and lapsed in 2004, said that "The need for a federal ban" on these assault weapons "has never been greater."
The committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, extended his condolences to the victims of gun violence in the audience but voiced skepticism about the prospect of enacting new gun laws when, in his view, existing gun laws are not even being properly enforced.
The assault weapons ban is perhaps the most controversial among a raft of proposals to reduce gun violence floated by President Obama in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook. Another key propsoal would strengthen and expand the background check system for gun purchasers.
Opponents of gun control argue that many of the proposals would be an unconstitutional infringement on the Second Amendment's guarantee of a right to bear arms. Many also argue that the proposals would be an ineffective deterrent of gun violence.
Supporters of gun control argue that the right to bear arms is not absolute and has previously been legally abridged in a variety of ways. They further point to the dramatically decreased incidence of gun violence in countries whose firearm restrictions are more stringent than our own.