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Victim's father makes case for U.S. assault weapons ban

Neil Heslin, holds a picture of himself and his 6-year-old son, Newtown victim Jesse Lewis, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on
Neil Heslin, holds a picture of himself and his 6-year-old son, Newtown victim Jesse Lewis, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The father of a 6-year-old boy who was killed in the shooting massacre at a Connecticut school made a dramatic appeal on Wednesday for President Barack Obama's uphill bid to ban sales of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Testifying before a divided U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse Lewis was murdered in the December 14 shootings that killed 20 children and six adults, joined an emergency room doctor in recalling the damage done by such a weapon. Heslin held up a picture of his son during his testimony and at times his voice choked with emotion.

"I'm not here for sympathy. I'm here to speak up for my son," Heslin said. Lewis, hit twice in the head, "lost his life ... because of a gun that nobody needs and nobody should have a right to have," Heslin said.

Dr William Begg told the panel that each child who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, had three to 11 bullet wounds.

"The gun legislation that you are considering will make a difference," Begg said. "It could prevent future tragedies like Newtown."

The Democrat-led committee is expected to approve, on a party line vote of 10-8, a bill to outlaw military-style semi-automatic rifles and magazines with more than 10 bullets.

But the measure, one of four gun-control bills inspired by Sandy Hook, is likely to face a bipartisan roadblock on the floor of the Democrat-led Senate.

Most Republican lawmakers, along with several Democrats from rural states who strongly support gun rights, have lined up against the bill. They say its restrictions would amount to a violation of their constitutional right to bear arms.

Backers of the bill contend that although Americans have a right to own a gun, the U.S. government has a responsibility to protect citizens from undue risks.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have separated Obama's four gun control bills in an effort to get at least some of the less controversial measures, such as expanded background checks for all gun buyers, implemented.

The four bills would require improved background checks, ban assault weapons, crackdown on illegal gun trafficking and improve school safety.

The committee could vote on the measures as early as Thursday, though any member of the panel may ask that consideration of the bills be delayed for a week.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who oversaw Wednesday's hearing, is chief sponsor of the bill that would renew a 10-year ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.

Feinstein said that such firearms have been used in several mass slayings in recent years, including Newtown as well as Aurora, Colorado, Tucson, Arizona, and Blacksburg, Virginia.

"We cannot allow the carnage I have described to continue without taking action," Feinstein said.

Critics of her bill cited studies that found no evidence that the previous decade-long ban had any impact on the U.S. homicide rate.

Senator Charles Grassley, the panel's top Republican, said, "when something has been tried and not found to work, we should try different approaches rather than re-enacting that which failed."

Grassley and other Republicans in Congress have said increased treatment of the mentally ill and improved efforts to prevent such people from getting guns would be a more effective way of curbing gun-related violence.

(Editing by David Lindsey and Stacey Joyce)

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