Must See: Newtown Father Neil Heslin’s Haunting Testimony Before Senate Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently conducting hearings on the proposed assault weapons ban that is considered the heaviest lift in President Obama‘s post-Newtown package of measures aimed at reducing gun violence. The brief, powerful excerpts of these hearings that have been played on cable news broadcasts don’t do justice to the power of these stories. In particular, the testimony of Newtown father Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse was slain in the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was a gutting reminder of what’s a stake, but more than that, a storytelling work of tragic beauty.

There’s an impulse, when confronted with such powerfully emotional testimony, to urge the viewer to set aside politics in favor of humanity, and if that helps someone to hear Neil Heslin’s story, then so be it. The lion’s share of his testimony consisted of the beautiful, searingly immediate memories that are all Mr. Heslin has left. The morning of the shooting, on December 14, 2012, Neil and Jesse stopped by the Misty Vale Deli for breakfast. Jesse ordered his favorite sandwich, sausage, egg, & cheese on a hard roll, and a cup of “what he called a coffee, but it was a hot chocolate.” He ordered the same sandwich for his dad.

It was a perfect moment, from the sounds of it, a moment you could picture, and happily retreat into forever. He remembered dropping Jesse off at school. He can still see the time on the school clock: 9:04.

He also recounted an eerie moment from the night before the shooting. “Jesse had an interest in guns, asked a lot of questions about them,” Heslin revealed. “Strange enough, the night before he perished, we were at Big White. He was looking at a survival magazine, or a gun magazine. And in that magazine, there were three weapons on one page. One was a Bushmaster. One was a Glock, and one was a Sig handgun.”

He said he had to go back later to double-check that magazine. Those three weapons were the same ones that Jesse’s killer carried into Sandy Hook Elementary School the following day.

“He asked me about those weapons,” Heslin continued. “And I explained them to him, What they were used for, and their capability. 223, it was a high-velocity, long-range cartridge. It was used by the military. And his response was, ‘A weapon or a gun that’s used to kill people?’ I said yes, Jesse. that’s what it’s used for.”

Early in his testimony, Neil Heslin referenced some criticism that’s apparently been leveled at him, and there are probably some on the other side of this argument who resent the moral authority that Heslin wields, but it is an authority that he would gladly trade back. No one who hears Mr. Heslin’s story could help but be willing to do just about anything to undo what he’s been through. That can’t be done, though, and it’s not what he’s asking for.

Neil Heslin, you may recall, is also the Newtown parent who was famously “not heckled” by gun nuts at a Connecticut hearing last month, an incident that he referenced in his testimony on Wednesday. “I asked a question a month ago,” he said, “what purpose those weapons served in civilians’ hands or on the street. I haven’t received an answer yet. But they did blurt the Second Amendment. It wasn’t about the Second Amendment. I defend the Second Amendment. And I want to see that upheld and regulated, and it hasn’t been.”

What Neil Heslin deserves, what he has earned in a way he never wished for, is an answer to his question. He deserves to be looked in the eye, and given an answer.

He deserves to be listened to. What was done to Jesse Lewis cannot be undone, but what we do now will determine how the next Neil Heslin and Jesse Lewis will end a given school day. Whatever we decide, that’s who we will have to answer to.

Here’s the full video of Neil Heslin’s testimony, from C-Span:

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