Fort Mill father of slain Clemson student supports assault weapons ban

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comFebruary 27, 2013 

Steve Grich’s first appearance on national television – a “numbing experience,” he said – lasted for about five minutes.

Nevertheless, he hopes his message makes an impact.

The Fort Mill father of a Clemson University student shot and killed late last year has thrown his support behind a proposed federal law that would ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, require universal background checks for potential gun buyers, and install stricter mental health measures.

“The background investigations, that’s a good first step,” Grich said Wednesday by phone from Washington, D.C., just minutes after attending Senate hearings and shaking hands with lawmakers.

Gun owners, said Grich – who supports the Second Amendment “100 percent” – should be “responsible for their weapons.”

On Dec. 8, police say four men broke into 23-year-old Steven Gregory Grich’s off-campus apartment looking for marijuana belonging to Grich’s roommate. He was killed by a gun his father says was stolen from one of the intruders’ relatives.

Police have arrested four men in connection with Grich’s slaying. No one has spoken with Steve Grich about any other motive.

“Steven’s proudest moment was getting into Clemson,” Grich said. “He worked hard to get into that school.”

Six days after his son’s slaying, Grich heard the news of another tragedy – 20 children and six adults were gunned down by Adam Lanza, 20, when he stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

One of those victims was 6-year-old Jesse McCord Lewis, the son of Neil Heslin. Heslin and Grich went to middle school and high school together in Shelton, Conn.

They lost touch, but reunited through Facebook some time ago with plans to meet up one day.

They could never find time in their schedules, Grich said.

Until now.

“It’s ironic for two people who went to school together to have their sons killed six days apart,” Grich said. “We’re more or less support for each other.”

On Tuesday night, the grieving fathers appeared on CNN’s “The Piers Morgan Show,” and touted their views on proposed gun laws. Grich told Morgan he wants gun owners to be responsible.

Morgan frequently spoke with Heslin during the broadcast, giving him time to maintain he doesn’t oppose the Second Amendment that gives Americans the right to bear arms.

“That’s a defense everybody keeps talking about,” Heslin said. “I never said once I’m not in favor of the Second Amendment. I support the Second Amendment. … The Second Amendment also reads ‘well-regulated.’

“It’s clear that it hasn’t been well-regulated. If it was, we wouldn’t be having the problems and the mass murders that we’ve had, including Sandy Hook Elementary, which took my son Jesse’s life. There’s no reason that should’ve happened.”

On Wednesday, Heslin tearfully testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, pushing for stronger gun regulation during a hearing focusing on banning ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds – like the Bushmaster, 30-round assault weapon Lanza used at Sandy Hook.

Also attending were family members affected by mass shootings in Newtown and Aurora, Colo. In all those shootings, Heslin said, the killers used firearms with high-powered magazine capacity.

Grich said the bill won’t take guns away from current owners, only stifle manufacturing new weapons.

While at the Capitol, Grich realized many people – including some from South Carolina – didn’t know the story of his son’s death.

“When one person gets killed, it doesn’t seem like it’s that bad of a thing,” Grich said. “There’s always more power in numbers.”

Having Heslin at his side has helped. Heslin told The Herald in a telephone interview that he’s confident change is coming, though the process might be slow.

“There has to be change,” he said. “It’s an uphill battle and something I’ll be pushing for – even if it takes years.”

Two months after his son’s death, Heslin said, he’s “OK, not good, not bad; I’m OK.

“I wish I could’ve gotten my hands on Adam Lanza ... but I have to be Jesse’s voice. I have to stick up for my son the only way I can.”

Grich will return to Fort Mill either today or Friday, when he and his family will continue to take it “one day at a time.”

“It’s real hard,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed.

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