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Senate hearing on assault weapons ban becomes testy and emotional

The father of one of the Newtown school shooting victims, pro-gun control mayors, and others testified at a Senate judiciary hearing on banning assault weapons

The father of one of the Newtown school shooting victims, pro-gun control mayors, and others testified at a Senate judiciary hearing on banning assault weapons Wednesday.

Among those testifying on Wednesday, Neil Heslin, whose six-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, died alongside 19 of his first-grade classmates and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, recounted the day of the shooting.

"It was 9:04 when I dropped Jesse off.  He gave me a hug and a kiss and said 'I love you.' He stopped and said 'I love Mom too.' When he was getting out of the truck, he held me and hugged me.  He said 'Everything will be okay, Dad. It'll be okay.' And it wasn't okay."

He concluded, "I have to go home at night to an empty house without my son."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the bill's sponsor, played a video for the committee showing how a bump fire slide, an assault weapon attachment, allows the military-style weapon to fire off multiple rounds. Feinstein cited the massacre at Newtown as well as those at Virginina Tech and the Aurora movie theater, as examples of the catastrophic capabilities of assault weapons.

"The need for a federal ban has never been greater," Feinstein said to her committee.

Dr. William Begg who is the head of the EMS for Newtown, Conn., began to cry when he thanked all who worked hard at the hospital to save those few children who were brought in after Newtown.  He pleaded with the panel to pass the bans on large-capacity magazines and assault weapons.

He also said it was a step in the right direction that people call for further mental-health reform, but recognized "you know what's the first thing that gets cut, it's mental health."

The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider several gun bills as early as Thursday but Republicans have vowed to delay consideration of the bill for a week. Sen. Feinstein's ban would rid the use of 157 military-style firearms, including semiautomatic rifles or pistols with ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds and have specific military-style features such as pistol grips, grenade launchers or rocket launchers.

Unlike the first assault weapons ban, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994 that expired ten years later, this new ban would become permanent.

The hearing became testy when South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham questioned John Walsh, the U.S. attorney for Colorado, and Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn. Arguing over background checks for gun owners, Flynn began to explain his department's focus on prosecuting criminals over people who failed to pass federal background checks.

Graham fired back, "It's clear that your focus is not on prosecuting people who fail background checks, would you agree with that?"

Flynn replied, "I want to stop 75,000 people from buying guns illegally! That's what a background check is." The Milwaukee police chief concluded, "We don't chase paper, we chase armed criminals."

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, the committee's ranking member, repeated his opposition to Feinstein's legislation, saying that the previous assault weapons ban did little to prevent the gun-related massacres. The senator also stated that Feinstein's legislation has "nothing to do with the functions of the weapons."

"Those arbitrary distinctions and the fact that these weapons are commonly used for self-defense raise constitutional questions under the Second Amendment. And the same questions of self-defense arise concerning magazines that enable firing of more than 10 rounds."

Grassley proposed alternative methods and argued that improving the background check system should be made a higher priority, criminalizing gun trafficking and finding ways to boost government funding for mental-health research.

President Obama has expressed support for the assault weapons ban and also would like to mandate a universal background check for gun-owners and a limit on the ammunition in magazine clips.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also plans to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. John McCain as well as Vice President Joe Biden at the White House. Bloomberg, a longtime gun-control advocate, has pledged to push stricter gun legislation, and will meet with senators throughout the day.

The mayor's super PAC spent more than $2 million on a Tuesday special election in an Illinois House race against Democrat Debbie Halvorson, who was backed by the National Rifle Association. Robin Kelly, Cook County chief administrative officer who made gun control a main campaign platform, won the congressional primary.