(AP) Some parents of children killed in the Newtown school shooting called for better enforcement of gun laws Monday at a legislative hearing that revealed a sharp divide in the gun-control debate, with advocates for gun rights shouting at the father of one 6-year-old victim.
Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse was killed in last month's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, asked people in the room to put themselves in his position as he questioned the need for any civilian to own semiautomatic, military-style weapons.
It's not a good feeling. Not a good feeling to look at your child laying in a casket or looking at your child with a bullet wound to the forehead. It's a real sad thing, said Heslin, who held up a large framed photograph of himself and his son.
A handful of people shouted about their Second Amendment rights when Heslin asked if anyone could provide a reason for a civilian to own an assault-style weapon. That prompted Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney to threaten to clear the room.
The hearing by a legislative subcommittee reviewing gun laws offered the first public testimony by family members of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, where a gunman slaughtered 20 first-grade children and six women. Adam Lanza had killed his mother in their home across town and then drove to the school to carry out the massacre before committing suicide.
The three Sandy Hook parents who spoke Monday all called for better enforcement or stricter gun-control laws.
But many gun rights advocates were among the hundreds of people who turned out for the hearing, with about 1,300 people singing up to speak. Metal detectors were installed at the entrance to the Legislative Office Building, and some waited as long as two hours to get into the building in Hartford.
The state's gun manufacturers urged the subcommittee to not support legislation that could put the state's historic gun manufacturing industry at risk.
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, said Dennis Veilleux, president and CEO of Colt Manufacturing, which employs about 670 people in West Hartford.
Heslin recalled walking his son to school on the morning of Dec. 14 and then returning an hour and a half later to a scene crowded with police and parents frantically looking for their children.
We were supposed to go back and make gingerbread houses that day. We never made it, he said.
There's no reason that Adam Lanza's mother should have had those weapons in that home, locked up or not locked up, with a child that apparently had mental issues, he said.
Heslin's son was in the classroom of Victoria Soto, a teacher who was killed in the massacre. He said some of the surviving students and their parents told him that Jesse had yelled, Run! Run now!
I hope that those words helped those children survive, he said.
Veronique Pozner, whose son Noah was killed at the school, told lawmakers about dropping off two of her daughters at the new Sandy Hook Elementary School in Monroe, and then visiting her son's grave, just five minutes away, to bring a teddy bear.
She described her son as a young philosopher. One question still haunts her.
He used to ask, 'If there are bad guys out there, why can't they just all wake up one day and decide to be good?' I didn't always have the answers that Noah was looking for, she said.
It was the second of four public hearings held the Connecticut General Assembly's task force on gun violence and school safety, which was created to develop legislative proposals in response to the Sandy Hook shooting. The subcommittees have until Feb. 15 to forward their recommendations to legislative leaders.
Mark Mattioli, whose 6-year-old son James was killed at Sandy Hook, said there are more than enough gun laws on the books, but they are not being properly enforced.
But Mattioli said the shooting, which also left six educators dead, is the symptom of a bigger problem facing the nation.
The problem is not gun laws, he said. The problem is a lack of civility.