“It’s an uphill battle. It’ll never pass.” That’s what is being said about legislation that would ban military style assault weapons. Yet, as I listened to the testimony of Neil Heslin whose 6-year-old son was one of 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I can’t accept this conventional wisdom.
Sandy Hook is a turning point. Too many lives have been taken by gunmen using weapons whose only purpose is to kill many people in mere minutes. Newtown is not going to “blow over” as the NRA has stated.
Heslin spoke tearfully at a Senate committee hearing on Feb. 27. “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.” 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 are many changes that have to happen to make a change effective. 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 on Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill to ban military style semiautomatic weapons like the rifle used at Sandy Hook. It would also ban the manufacture and sale of ammunition magazines in excess of 10 bullets.
Like Mr. Heslin, I’m a parent. As a baby-boomer, my first knowledge of gun violence was President Kennedy’s assassination. I was 9 years old, and I remember thinking how sad his children must have been. Then with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., followed by other attempted and successful assassinations, gun violence became the “new normal.”
As a child, I remember doing tornado drills at school. Fast forward to 2013 where the “new normal” at schools is intruder drills. My future daughter-in-law teaches second grade at a suburban St. Louis elementary school. How can she and millions of teachers across the country realistically protect children from a gunman blasting his way into the classroom?
Those of us who support gun violence prevention know that common sense laws do not threaten Second Amendment rights. And the Supreme Court has ruled that regulation does not infringe upon the Second Amendment. Heslin supports the Second Amendment; he has owned guns and was a champion skeet shooter. He understands that laws to protect the public can co-exist with the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns for personal protection, hunting and recreation.
I know it will be an “uphill battle” to get any legislation passed, much less the renewal of an assault weapons ban. But I am encouraged by the strong and sustained voices of mayors, law enforcement officials, physicians and parents advocating for laws that include the resources necessary to enforce them.
Today, March 13, is “Moms Take the Hill Day,” sponsored by the volunteer group, Moms Demand Action. In meetings with elected officials, mothers will advocate for: an assault weapons ban and ammunition magazine limits; background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases; reporting the sale of large quantities of ammunition to the BATF; and banning online ammunition sales.
Getting involved does not require a trip to Washington. Check out these websites: Mom’s Demand Action www.momsdemandaction.org; Coalition to Stop Gun Violence www.csgv.org; and Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence www.bradycampaign.org.
(Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Commentary section of the St. Louis Beacon.]