No, the Sandy Hook Dad Wasn't Actually "Heckled"

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 29 2013 6:05 PM

Was the Sandy Hook Dad Really "Heckled"? The Video Suggests Otherwise.

Update: We now have video of Neil Heslin's testimony to Connecticut lawmakers yesterday—during which he was reportedly "heckled" by gun-rights advocates—and the footage suggests that the initial characterization of the incident was more than a little misleading.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

At around the 15-minute mark in the video below you'll hear an untold number of gun-rights supporters shout out a variety of Second Amendment-related remarks, just as the the Connecticut Post originally reported occurred in a story headlined "Father of Newtown victim heckled at hearing." But the video also shows that those who interjected were responding to a question posed by Heslin.

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"Is there anybody in this room that can give me one reason or challenge this question, why anybody in this room needs to have one of these assault-style weapons or military weapons or high-capacity clips?" Heslin said before pausing and looking around the room. He then continued: "And not one person can answer that question or give me an answer." It was at that point that the cries of "Second Amendment" can be heard.

It's certainly worth pointing out that the audience members aren't supposed to interrupt a witness—a lawmaker running the hearing can be heard asking for the crowd to be quiet—and it's possible that Heslin's question was a rhetorical one, and his pause was simply for dramatic effect. But regardless, it also appears as though those gun-rights advocates who spoke up were doing so in response to what they heard as a question. Even if such actions represent an interruption they nonetheless appear to fall well short of heckling, an act that most often comes with an air of harassment associated with it.

If the exchange between Heslin and the pro-gun audience members was noteworthy at all, it's likely because of how relatively civil the whole thing was (at least in comparison to what followed online today). The gun-rights advocates in the audience quickly quiet down after their short responses; Heslin appears largely unfazed by the shouts.

"We're all entitled to our own opinion and I respect their opinions and their thoughts," Heslin continued after the incident. "I wish they'd respect mine and give it a little bit of thought, and realize it could have been their child that could have been in that school that day."

Here's the video to judge for yourself. Further down below is my original post, for posterity's sake. Based on the original report, the post originally ran under a pair of headlines: "Father of Newtown Victim Interrupted by Shouts of 'Second Amendment!'" and "Father of Newtown Victim Heckled by Gun-Rights Supporters".

***** *** *****

Original Post at 10 a.m.: Connecticut state lawmakers held a public hearing in Hartford yesterday to discuss gun control and safety in the wake of last month's tragic elementary school shooting in Newtown that killed 20 students and six staff members. Some 1,500-odd members of the public turned up to be heard at the task force meeting, and by most accounts things stayed relatively civil as those on both sides of the issue made their case. Then this happened according to the Connecticut Post:

"The Second Amendment!" was shouted a couple of times by as many as a dozen gun enthusiasts in the meeting room as Neil Heslin, holding a photo of his slain 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, asked why Bushmaster assault-style weapons are allowed to be sold in the state.
"There are a lot of things that should be changed to prevent what happened," said Heslin, who said he grew up using guns and was undisturbed by the interruption of his testimony.
"That wasn't just a killing, it was a massacre," said Heslin, who recalled dropping off his son at Sandy Hook Elementary school shortly before Lanza opened fire. "I just hope some good can come out of this."

The gun debate has raged all over the country in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, although perhaps nowhere louder than in the state in which it unfolded. Connecticut lawmakers have already considered a wide-range of gun-related legislation in the weeks since the shooting, including proposals that would enact a 50-percent tax on ammunition, expand the state's existing assault-weapons ban and outlaw large-capacity magazines.

As the Wall Street Journal explained yesterday, Monday's hearing was also the site of Connecticut-based gunmakers "most robust public statements" since the shooting, with company officials pushing back against those calling for stricter gun control. "As we’ve seen the number of guns in society have increased, yet the violent crime rate has decreased," Joseph Bartozzi, senior VP of general counsel of Mossberg & Sons Inc., told lawmakers. "To say it’s all about guns I think simply is a disservice."

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

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