A father who lost his son in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School wept openly today as he testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on a proposed assault weapons ban.
"Jesse was the love of my life. He was the only family I had left. It's hard for me to be here today to talk about my deceased son. I have to. I'm his voice," Neil Heslin said as he sobbed before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Heslin's son, Jesse Lewis, 6, was among the 20 children and six teachers and school administrators murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., last December. Heslin recounted his last moments with his son when he took him to pick up his favorite sausage, egg and cheese sandwich and hot chocolate before dropping him off at school on the morning of Dec. 14.
"It was 9:04 when I dropped Jesse off. Jesse gave me a hug and a kiss and at that time said goodbye and love you. He stopped and said, I loved mom too." Heslin and his wife are separated.
"That was the last I saw of Jesse as he ducked around the corner. Prior to that when he was getting out of the truck he hugged me and held me and I could still feel that hug and pat on the back and he said everything's going to be ok dad. It's all going to be ok," Heslin said breaking down in tears a second time. "It wasn't ok. I have to go home at night to an empty house without my son."
Heslin was one of eight witnesses testifying at a hearing to back a proposed assault weapons ban. Another witness was Dr. William Begg, a physician who made it to the emergency room the day of the Newtown shooting.
"People say that the overall number of assault weapon deaths is small, but you know what? Please don't tell that to the people of Tucson or Aurora or Columbine or Virginia Tech, and don't tell that to the people in Newtown," Begg said as he choked up and people in the crowd clapped. "Don't tell that to the people in Newtown. This is a tipping point. This is a tipping point and this is a public health issue. Please make the right decision."
The emotions weren't just reserved for the witnesses. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., became heated as he discussed the suggestion that it is common for people to use assault style weapons for self defense.
"If it is common in America to have a military assault weapon with a hundred [bullet] magazine, if that is common for self defense in America then God save this country," Durbin said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who introduced the assault weapons ban, recounted the violence inflicted at a number of mass shootings involving assault style firearms as an example for why such kinds of weapons should be banned.
"That horrific event shocked our nation to its roots. And the pictures of these little victims brought tears to the eyes of millions of Americans. We are holding today's hearing because the massacre in Newtown was sadly not an anomaly," Feinstein said in her opening remarks. "We cannot allow the carnage I have described to continue without taking action on what is a serious matter of public policy."
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, argued, that limiting the types of firearms people can purchase is not the way to stop criminals from committing acts of violence.
"When something has been tried and found not to work, we should try different approaches rather than reenacting that which hasn't done the job. There are vast numbers of gun-control laws in our country. Criminals do not obey them, but law-abiding citizens do. That tilts the scale in favor of criminals who use guns. If gun-control laws were effective in reducing crime, they would have produced lower crime rates by now," he said.
One of the most contentious moments of the hearing came when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked witnesses about prosecutions on those who failed background checks.
"If we're going to require background checks, it looks to me like we ought to start enforcing the laws that are on the books," Graham said. "I'm a bit frustrated we say one thing about how important it is but in the real world we absolutely do nothing to enforce the laws on the books."
Graham proceeded to ask Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn how many false background checks he's forwarded for prosecution.
"It doesn't matter," Flynn said as Graham proceeded to interrupt him. "It's a paper thing…I want to stop 76,000 people from buying guns illegally. That's what a background check does. If you think we're going to do paperwork prosecutions you're wrong."
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to consider four gun safety measures, including the assault weapons ban, on Thursday. The three other bills aim to stop illegal gun trafficking, enhance safety in schools, and enact universal background checks.