Sandy Hook parents’ testimony reflects divide on guns
By RAY RIVERA
and PETER APPLEBOME
The New York Times | January 29,2013
Neil Heslin, holding a picture of himself with his son Jesse, testifies at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Conn. Monday.
Heslin, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was one of the 20 first-graders killed in the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., told a legislative subcommittee reviewing gun laws that there is no need for such weapons in homes or on the streets.
HARTFORD, Conn. — Highlighting deep divisions in Connecticut over firearms legislation, hundreds of people packed into the state Capitol on Monday for a hearing on gun laws, among them two Newtown victims’ fathers, who took opposing sides.
“The sole purpose of those AR-15s or AK-47s is to put a lot of lead out on the battlefield quickly, and that’s what they do and that’s what they did at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” said Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was among the 20 first-graders and six staff members killed there. Heslin told lawmakers that he had grown up around guns and was the son of an avid hunter, but that he believed there was no reason any civilian should have an assault-style weapon like the one used to kill his son.
“That wasn’t just a killing; that was a massacre,” he said. “Those children and those victims were shot apart. And my son was one of them.”
But Mark Mattioli, whose son James, 6, was also killed at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, said: “I believe in a few simple gun laws. I think we have more than enough on the books. We should hold people individually accountable for their actions.”
“The problem is not gun laws,” he added. “The problem is a lack of civility.”
Mattioli said he also thought some liberals were using the attack in Newtown to spread fear on gun issues.
The hearing, one of several scheduled by the Legislature’s Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety, was scheduled to continue all day. More than 1,300 people, including relatives, gun control advocates, gun rights advocates and gun industry representatives, had signed up to testify. The task force hopes to have legislation prepared for passage by the end of February.
Outside, people braved frigid temperatures and driving snow to pass through metal detectors, part of the heightened security measures for the hearing. Women from groups like March for Change and One Million Moms for Gun Control, which are calling for stricter gun laws, stood among burly men wearing hunting jackets and National Rifle Association hats. Gun rights supporters clearly outnumbered those in favor of more gun control.
Inside the hearing room, gun rights supporters wore round yellow stickers reading “Another Responsible Gun Owner.” People on the other side of the issue wore green ribbons, which have become a symbol of the Newtown tragedy.