By Nicholas Salazar
The Senate Judiciary Committee debated the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 Wednesday morning in a hearing that featured Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, law enforcement officials, and an emotional plea from the father of one of the Sandy Hook Elementary victims.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is aimed at banning the sale, manufacture, and transfer of military-grade weapons as well as high-capacity magazines in the United States. The law was on the books from 1994-2004.
“We are holding today’s hearing because the massacre in Newtown was, sadly, not an anomaly,” Feinstein said. “The one common thread running through these mass shootings in recent years…is that the gunman used a military-style, semiautomatic assault weapon or large-capacity ammunition magazine to commit the unspeakable horror.”
Feinstein added that “the need for a federal ban has never been greater,” but argued that her proposal does not infringe on the rights of sportsmen, and will not take away existing weapons that Americans currently own.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), disagreed, however, and argued that there should not be any new laws put in place due to what he called a lack of enforcement of the current laws that are already in place.
“I would argue that the law is fundamentally broken,” he said.
Graham also argued that the prosecution of citizens who lie on background check forms should be a higher priority, and laid part of the blame on law enforcement for failure to do so. “The best way to prevent crazy people…from getting a weapon…is to identify them.”
Neil Heslin, whose son, Jesse McCord Lewis, was killed in the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., gave his emotional plea for Congress to enact tougher gun legislation.
Heslin described Jesse, as “a boy that loved life and lived it to the fullest,” and added that “he was my best friend.”
“I wish I wasn’t here with you today,” Heslin said. “I know you can’t give me Jesse back.” Heslin concluded by saying that Congress can “start by passing this assault weapons ban and taking these senseless weapons out of the hands of people like [alleged Newtown shooter] Adam Lanza.”
Following Heslin’s testimony, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) fired back at critics of the assault weapons ban, comparing the justification for Americans to be allowed to possess assault weapons to a “suicide pact.”
“What about the rights of the law-abiding citizens who wear uniforms everyday…who get up and put their lives on the line for us?” he asked.
Perhaps the highest point of applause of the hearing came when Durbin said “the point I want to make is this: if it is common in America to have a military assault weapon with a 100-round magazine, if that is common for self-defense in America, God save this country.”
Also in attendance was Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who pleaded his case for the safety of law enforcement and testified that “”Neither our police officers, nor our citizens, and especially out children, should be confronted with these weapons on the streets of our cities, in our schools, in our movie theaters, in our shopping malls, in our places of worship, or in other civilian settings.”
“To me…these are weapons of mass destruction,” Nutter said.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Feinstein admitted that the bill faces an uphill battle, but vowed to the victims of gun violence who were in the audience that she would continue to fight for a vote to take place. Reinstating the federal assault weapons ban is one of President Obama’s top priorities this year.