Moral Low Ground

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Gun Activists Heckle Neil Heslin, Father of Slain Sandy Hook Victim Jesse Lewis, at Gun Violence Prevention Event

Neil Heslin and Jesse Lewis

Neil Heslin and Jesse Lewis

Gun rights supporters showed no respect for the father of a 6-year-old boy shot to death during the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as they heckled him while he spoke at a gun violence prevention event in Connecticut on Monday.

Jesse Lewis was among the 27 people, including 20 young children, who were killed by gunman Adam Lanza at the Newtown, Connecticut school on December . Upon hearing gunshots, Jesse, who had been hidden away in a closet with other children by slain hero teacher Victoria Soto, ran out into the hallway to help his schoolmates and was shot dead with a semiautomatic assault rifle.

On Monday, Neil Heslin, Jesse’s father, was one of more than 1,000 people who attended a legislative hearing before the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group in Hartford. Families of Sandy Hook victims, as well as some state and Newtown officials and other concerned citizens, spoke out in favor of banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Holding a large framed photograph of Jesse and himself, Heslin choked back tears as he testified how Jesse was his “son, buddy and best friend.” Heslin said that he “was raised with firearms, hunting and skeet shooting,” and that he was “not in favor of banning guns.” But he does favor restrictions on assault weapons like the Bushmaster rifle that killed his son and many of the other victims.

“I still can’t see why any civilian, anybody in this room in fact, needs weapons of that sort. You’re not going to use them for hunting, even for home protection,” he said.

That’s when some incredibly disrespectful gun rights advocates, who turned out in droves, heckled Heslin with shouts of “Second Amendment!” and “It’s our right!” as well as recitations of the Second Amendment.

Undeterred, Heslin continued: “We’re not living in the Wild West. We’re not a Third World nation… We don’t need to defend our homes with weapons like that.”

Veronique Pozner, whose son Noah was the youngest to die in the massacre, also spoke on Monday, asserting that there is “no place” for assault weapons “in the hands of civilians.” Pozner said only police and the military should have such weapons, one of which was used to shoot her young son 11 times.

“This is not about the right to bear arms. It is about the right to bear weapons with the capacity of mass destruction,” Pozner said. “The time is now. Let the state of Connecticut become an agent for change.”

State Sen. Beth Bye (D-West Hartford) and state Rep. Bob Godfrey (D-Danbury) recently announced their intention to introduce several measures to limit access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Their proposals include prohibiting the sale of any weapon that can fire more than 10 rounds as well as a 50 percent sales tax on bullets and the magazines that hold them.

“We have a unique opportunity to revisit our regulations and update them. We must focus on what are truly weapons of mass destruction, as we tragically learned last week,” Rep. Godfrey said in the wake of the Newtown tragedy.

But gun advocates stressed their belief that as with alcohol in the past and drugs today, prohibition does not work and only enables black markets to flourish.

Other Second Amendment proponents cited Connecticut’s large firearms industry, warning of negative economic consequences that could result from prohibitions and restrictions.

“We have a reason to consider the ramifications on the firearms industry that has contributed much to the state’s history and culture and continues to play a vital role,” Dennis Veilleux, CEO of West Hartford-based Colt Manufacturing, told the Los Angeles Times.

“We must consider the rights of law-abiding citizens,” Kevin Reid, vice president of gunmaker Sturm, Ruger & Co., told the Times. “We need to be mindful of the economic impact. Connecticut obviously can’t afford a solution that costs jobs and tax revenue while [doing] nothing to address the problem.”

But to the parents of the children murdered at Sandy Hook, and hundreds of thousands of other Americans affected by gun violence, there is no price that can be placed on the lives of their loved ones lost as a result of a peculiar national obsession with guns and a 221-year-old document written when smooth bore muskets and flintlock pistols were state-of-the-art. Indeed, to many international observers, too many Americans seem to care more about keeping their guns than about keeping children alive.

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