Neil Heslin, father of six-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim Jesse Lewis, holds a picture of him with Jesse as he testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Photo: Getty
WASHINGTON: Battling tears, the father of one of the first-graders slain at the elementary school massacre in Connecticut in December has pleaded with senators to ban assault weapons like the gun that killed his six-year-old son.
"I'm not here for sympathy," Neil Heslin, a 50-year-old construction worker who said he grew up with guns and had been teaching his son, Jesse, about them. "I'm here because of my son."
Mr Heslin spoke for 11 minutes, his voice barely audible and breaking at times, to the Senate Judiciary Committee that is deeply divided over the issue of curbing guns.
The panel was holding a hearing on a bill by Senator Dianne Feinstein, , to ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds. Senator Feinstein and her allies said her measure would reduce the deaths such high-powered firearms can cause, but Republicans on the panel said the move would violate the constitutional right to bear arms and take guns away from law-abiding citizens who use them for self-defence.
Mr Heslin said he supports sportsmen and the Second Amendment right for citizens to have firearms. But he said that amendment was written centuries before weapons as deadly as assault weapons were invented.
"No person should have to go through what myself" and other victims' families have had to endure, Mr Heslin told the politicians.
He recalled the morning of December 14, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster assault weapon to kill 20 first-graders and six staffers at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
"He said it's all going to be OK," Mr Heslin said his son told him when he dropped him off at school. He added, "And it wasn't OK."
Despite Newtown and other mass shootings, the bruising, difficult path through Congress that gun control legislation faces was underscored on Wednesday when the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said he opposes universal background checks for gun purchases, a central piece of President Barack Obama's plan for curbing gun violence. Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, told reporters that the proposal could lead to creation of a federal gun registry - which the Obama administration has said will not happen.
Wednesday's Senate Judiciary hearing was its third since the Newtown tragedy made gun violence a top-tier national issue. The Judiciary panel could begin writing legislation as early as Thursday, but that session is likely to be delayed until next week.
Obama made bans on assault weapons and large capacity magazines key parts of the gun curbs he proposed in January in response to the Connecticut school massacre.
The cornerstone of his package is a call for universal background checks for gun buyers, some version of which seems to have a stronger chance of moving through Congress. Currently, only sales by federally licensed gun dealers require such checks, which are designed to prevent criminals and others from obtaining firearms.