HARTFORD, Conn. - 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 semi-automatic, 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 signing 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 not to 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.