James Bias apologized to the audience gathered to hear a discussion about gun violence. "I have to leave here and bury my son."
Jay Bias, 20, brother of fallen basketball star Len Bias, was gunned down in suburban Washington Tuesday, cementing the area's notorious reputation as the nation's murder capital.James Bias took time out Friday from making arrangements for his son's funeral to plead for a national campaign to limit the sale and ownership of guns, which he called "instruments of death."
"When you buy a gun, you buy it for the purpose of killing," he said. And then in a rapid-fire burst of emotion he blurted: "Tomorrow when you pick up the paper . . . it might be yours. It's my son this time - it could be yours next time."
The panelists, assembled on Capitol Hill by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, say prompt action is needed to break the death grip that guns have on America.
Julian Bond, a civil rights activist and former Georgia state legislator, noted that the discussion was taking place 10 years to the day that John Lennon was shot to death in front of his New York City apartment.
In the decade since then, Bond said, guns have claimed the lives of 200,000 Americans - a number greater than the combined American war dead in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada and Panama.
"And still the violence continues," he said.
Most of panelists called for legislation to limit the availability of guns and for a national campaign to change violent behavior. All expressed alarm that disputes are frequently being settled with gunfire.
"Violence is a learned behavior," James Bias said. "Nobody is born violent."
Police say a dispute was apparently at the center of Jay Bias' death. He was confronted in a jewerly store Tuesday afternoon by a man who claimed he was flirting with the man's common-law wife, a clerk at the store.
The man later shot Bias in the back outside the jewelry store in Hyattsville, Md., a suburb of Washington. He was pronounced dead at a hospital less than two hours later.
Jay Bias was just 16 when his brother, Len, a University of Maryland basketball star, died of a cocaine overdose June 19, 1986, just three days after he was drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics. The death brought national attention to the dangers of cocaine. James Bias said he hoped the death of Jay Bias will do the same for gun violence.
"It's time to make some moves and get some things done," he said. "Make the phone jump off the hook. If you don't, there will be more Jay Biases."
Dr. Beverly Coleman-Miller, assistant to the District of Columbia commissioner of public health, said violence is becoming so commonplace in Washington that some teenagers go to three or four funerals a week. She recalled seeing one teenager who attended a funeral in casual clothes while eating a hamburger.
She added that there has been no public outcry over the violence because "people do not believe that this level of crime is going to touch them."
Jesse Jackson, who accompanied James Bias to the hearing, said, "We must change our tolerance level for violence. We must put this issue of drugs and violence at the center of the '92 campaign."