WASHINGTON -- A Connecticut gun lobbying group on Wednesday personally attacked the father of a Sandy Hook school massacre victim, accusing him of "profitting off of the tragedy" and saying a decade-old drug arrest makes him a "poster boy" for background check ineffectiveness.
Connecticut Carry, a nonprofit gun lobbying organization, singled out Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse Lewis was killed in the December school shooting, in a press release. Heslin has testified before Congress and attended events at the White House with President Barack Obama in support of increased background checks for gun purchasers.
Heslin was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday to answer charges related to driving with a suspended license and writing bad checks. He has pleaded not guilty, the News Times reported. Heslin was convicted of felony narcotics possession more than a decade ago, around the same period he was arrested multiple times for driving under the influence. Attempts to reach Heslin Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Referring to Heslin's White House visits, the gun lobby group said, "A felon within arm’s reach of the president of the administration so dead set on background checks. No better testimony to how ineffective background checks are needs to be presented."
Heslin made national headlines in late February, when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee while holding up a portrait of his son Jesse. Heslin wept openly as he described his last moments with his son. "I have to go home at night to an empty house, without my son," he told the senators.
Connecticut Carry charged that Heslin is "profiting" from his advocacy for increased gun control.
"Mr. Heslin has found the employment he has needed for so long lobbying against the rights of the citizens of Connecticut and the rest of the country," the group said. Heslin is a self-employed contractor and has had financial problems in the past, including a 2011 foreclosure, Connecticut Carry pointed out in its press release.
Asked for details of the group's allegation that Heslin had found employment lobbying for gun control, Rich Burgess, the founder of Connecticut Carry, sent a link to an ad produced by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which featured Heslin with several other parents of Sandy Hook victims.
Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said, "Neil is not employed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns nor was he compensated for his participation in the ad featuring family members of Newtown shooting victims.
"Newtown opened Americans' eyes to the epidemic of gun violence that plagues our country," Lamb continued. "We are grateful to Neil for his -- entirely unpaid -- efforts to make sure that no other parent suffers the unspeakable tragedy of having their child killed by gun violence."
The Huffington Post contacted other prominent gun control groups, including the Brady Campaign, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and the Newtown-based nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise. All said they have not employed Heslin.
This article has been updated to include the comment of Erika Soto Lamb, spokeswoman for Mayors Against Illegal Guns.