The father of one of the 20 young children who were killed in the Newtown mass shooting in December has said he is ashamed of the way that the US Congress is dragging its heels over new gun control legislation.
Neil Heslin, whose six-year-old son Jesse was among the victims of the 14 December massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, joined other Newtown parents in a public display of outrage at the failure of Congress to move rapidly towards reform. The comments followed the decision of the Democratic leader of the senate, Harry Reid, earlier this week effectively to kill a proposal to renew the ban on assault weapons.
Heslin said that such weapons had no place on the streets or schools like his son's. "I'm really ashamed to see that Congress doesn't have the guts to stand up and put a ban on these types of weapons and universal background checks [on gun sales]. I ask that Congress makes a change and help prevent this from ever happening again."
The proposed assault weapons ban would revive in strengthened form the federal prohibition that lapsed in 2004. It is still likely to get a vote on the floor of the Senate, but Reid's move on Monday to strip it out of a comprehensive reform package was a tacit recognition that it had no chance of passing. There are also signs that the extension of federal monitoring through background checks to all gun sales, including private sales at gun shows and on the internet, may struggle to attract sufficient support of Congress members.
Lynn McDonnell, whose daughter Grace died in the Sandy Hook tragedy, also piled on the pressure on those Congress members resisting the call for new gun controls. "We would ask everyone who has power to influence legislation in this area, and those whose job it is to vote on the legislation, to ask themselves whether they are doing enough to bring about real and meaningful change, and if not, ask themselves 'Why not?'"
She went on: "for those minded to do very little, think about the unthinkable, which is unfortunately our reality."
The Newtown families were brought together at New York city hall by mayor Michael Bloomberg, arguably the country's foremost gun control advocate, and the vice president Joe Biden who has been tasked by Barack Obama to lead the push for new regulations in the wake of Newtown. The two politicians clearly hoped that by reminding the American public of the Connecticut disaster - which took place 100 days ago this Sunday - they might inject a renewed sense of urgency into the political process.
Biden was scathing about those politicians so sensitive about what the National Rifle Association would do to them that they sat on their hands. Though he didn't mention the NRA by name, he said: "It must be awful being in public office and concluding that even though you might believe you should take action, that you can't take action because of the political consequences you might face. What a heck of a way to make a living, what a heck of a way to have to act."
Bloomberg put his focus on the main battle now ahead: to wrestle universal background checks on all gun sales through the Senate, and then even more problematically, through the Republican-dominated house. "There's no doubt that requiring background checks for all gun sales saves lives," he said.
"The only question is whether Congress will have the courage to do the right thing – or whether they will allow more innocent people, including innocent children, to be gunned down."
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