Plea for a ban on assault weapons

Nicholas Johnson in ABC News, February 28, 2013

Media Source

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: In the United States there were emotional scenes in a hearing in Washington as senators considered a ban on semi-automatic weapons.

A father of one of the 20 primary school-aged children killed in a shooting massacre at Sandy Hook pleaded with Congress to pass the laws.

Most Republicans and some Democrats are still reluctant to restrict gun ownership in the US.

North America correspondent Lisa Millar reports.

LISA MILLAR, REPORTER: More than two months after the Sandy Hook shooting, the emotions remain incredibly raw.

NEIL HESLIN, FATHER: Jesse was the love of my life. He was the only family I had left. It's hard for me to be here today and talk about my deceased son.

LISA MILLAR: Neil Heslin's six-year-old son was murdered just 20 minutes after he dropped him at school. The Newtown resident came to Washington to campaign for legislation that would ban the type of weapon that killed his son.

NEIL HESLIN: 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.

LISA MILLAR: The emergency doctor who tried to help the children rejects the notion that semi-automatics are responsible for relatively few deaths.

WILLIAM BEGG, TRAUMA SPECIALIST: Please don't tell that to the people of Tucson or Aurora or Columbine or Virginia tech and don't tell that to the people of Newtown.

LISA MILLAR: A packed room watched a video of how a semi-automatic weapon could be converted into something even more lethal. Dianne Feinstein used it to ram home her point. She's also pushing for a ban on high-capacity magazine clips and she's gained top-level backing.

EDWARD FLYNN, MILWAUKEE POLICE DEPT: It promotes public safety, it protects the second amendment, it prevents the preventable. It's time for Congress to pick a side. This time I hope it's law enforcement's.

LISA MILLAR: Republicans on the committee made it clear from their questions how they felt about any tightening of control over gun ownership.

LINDSEY GRAHAM, REPUBLICAN SENATOR: The intruder followed up and opened the closet door. She had a six-shot revolver. She was on the phone with her husband. She emptied the gun, hit him five or six times and he was able to get in his car and drive away. In a situation like that, would you object to the mother having a 20-round clip?

???: No.

LISA MILLAR: Democrats attacked witnesses who suggested the legislation had no grounding.

DICK DURBIN, DEMOCRAT SENATOR: If it is common in America to have a military assault weapon with 100-round magazine, if that is common for self-defence in America, God save this country.

LISA MILLAR: Constitutional lawyers voiced their concern that the legislation was too wide-ranging.

NICHOLAS JOHNSON, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY, NY: That renders the bill, I'm afraid, incoherent and that renders the bill unable to pass rudimentary rational basis analysis.

LISA MILLAR: Democrats are more confident of winning enough support to introduce compulsory background checks for anyone buying a gun. They're also trying to tackle illegal arms trafficking and school safety.

Anti-gun campaigner Michael Bloomberg is feeling more confident.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK MAYOR: It's pretty hard to believe that at the rate this country is evolving that we're not going to have much more sensible gun laws. People are just fed up.

LISA MILLAR: The billionaire mayor is promising to back anti-gun politicians who feel threatened by the power of the pro-gun lobby. He's claiming success this week after spending $2.3 million on ad campaigns on behalf of a Democratic candidate in a Chicago primary election.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I think we showed in Illinois that by explaining to the public what's at stake here? It's their lives, it's their kids and grandkids' lives, their parents' lives and that we need sensible gun laws.

LISA MILLAR: Robin Kelly sailed to victory.

ROBIN KELLY, ILLINOIS DEMOCRAT: I really think it was my message and part of my message was gun safety and gun control.

LISA MILLAR: But the future of the gun debate in the US will not be so quickly resolved.

Lisa Millar, Lateline.