A father who lost his son in the Newtown, Conn., shootings pleaded with senators to act on gun control at a Wednesday hearing, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden proclaimed that the political dynamics of the issue have irrevocably changed.
However, opponents of President Obama's proposals showed no signs of budging and a key lawmaker said universal background checks are unlikely to pass Congress.
Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse was killed in the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that claimed the lives of 19 other children and six adults, delivered an emotional appeal before a hushed audience for a ban on so-called assault weapons and other gun-control measures.
"I'm not here for the sympathy and a pat on the back, as many people stated in the town of Newtown," Mr. Heslin said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. "I'm here to speak up for my son."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who presided over the hearing on her bill that would ban certain types of military-style, semiautomatic rifles, said Newtown has changed the conversation -- and that it is not an isolated incident.
"That horrific event shocked our nation to its roots," the California Democrat said.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and the ranking member on the committee, said the body is determined to take action to try to prevent such an incident from happening again, but that he opposes Mrs. Feinstein's bill.
The bill "bans guns based solely on their appearance," Mr. Grassley said. "Some of those cosmetic features are useful for self-defense. Others have nothing to do with functioning of the weapons."
One of the more contentious exchanges during the 31/2-hour hearing came after Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina asked Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn how many cases he has brought against would-be gun buyers who fail background checks.
"You know what? It doesn't matter -- it's a paper thing," Chief Flynn said. "I want to stop 76,000 people from buying guns illegally -- that's what a background check does. If you think we're going to do paperwork prosecutions, you're wrong."
Mr. Graham acknowledged that funding likely will be threadbare for Chief Flynn and other police chiefs, but asked again how many cases he had made against people failing background checks.
"We make 2,000 gun cases a year, senator," Chief Flynn said. "That's our priority."
Mr. Graham responded by saying one thing everyone should be able to agree on is that the background-check system for gun purchasers and the laws already on the books should work properly.
"I guess the point is if we don't want the wrong people to own guns, which we all agree, the one way to do that is to take the system that's supposed to make the distinction between a person who should and shouldn't and enforce it," he said.
But Mr. Biden, speaking Wednesday in front of a group of attorneys general from across the country, issued a warning to those who want to oppose gun controls.
"There will be a moral price as well as a political price to be paid for inaction," he said.
Nevertheless, any legislation that does make it through the Senate would still have to clear the Republican-controlled House.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he doesn't think universal background checks will be part of the committee's work on the issue.
He did say that strengthening the background check system and trying to curb illegal firearm sales are two areas where lawmakers could likely produce legislation.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.
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