After failing to pass any new gun control legislation this week as many as 40 or more Democrat legislators have taken the House floor by sit-in, in an attempt to force a vote on increasing gun control in the U.S. On Monday, the Senate shut down all four recently-proposed national gun control bills.
The bills, criticized by both the left and the right, faced a lot of opposition. They were misguided and even potentially unconstitutional in the case of “no-fly, no-buy” legislation that would suspend due process for people on government watchlists. Both the NRA and the ACLU have taken position against some watchlist bills. Still, the vote fell largely along party lines.
“We all agree that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms,” said NRA-ILA executive director Chris Cox, thanking the lawmakers who successfully opposed the bills. “We should all agree that law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a secret government list should not be denied their constitutional right to due process. These are not mutually exclusive ideas. It is shocking that the safety of the American people is taking a backseat to political theater.”
Led by Georgia congressman John Lewis (D) the sit-in is halting all House functions. Frequently televised, the floor is not being broadcast as the House is not in session.
“Sometimes you have to do something out of the ordinary, sometimes you have to make a way out of no way,” said Lewis. “There comes a time when you have to say something, when you have to make a little noise, when you have to move your feet. This is the time. Now is the time to get in the way. The time to act is now. We will be silent no more.” Lewis was a prominent civil rights leader and has a long history of non-violent protesting, organizing and protesting with marches and sit-ins.
“We have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence,” Lewis said. “Tiny little children, babies, students, and teachers, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, friends and neighbors. And what has this body done? Mr. Speaker, not one thing.”
Lewis and the other protesting legislators claim that they’ve “occupied” the floor, taking turns giving speeches and chanting “No bill no break!”
Republican legislators don’t seem moved by the protest, which follows in the footsteps of last week’s Democrat-led Senate filibuster calling for the doomed gun control bills.
“The House cannot operate without members following the rules of the institution, so the House has recessed subject to the call of the chair,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), in a statement writes Politico.
It will be up to Ryan to decide whether to issue sanctions, clear the floor or wait out the protest and continue the recess. In the meantime gun control groups are praising the protesting legislators.
“Leader Pelosi, Congressman Lewis, and dozens of their colleagues are showing extraordinary leadership today,” said Everytown for Gun Safety president and gun control advocate John Feinblatt. “No doubt the gun lobby’s allies will try to subvert the will of the people, but what we’re seeing on the House floor and Capitol steps today makes it clearer than ever – Americans want their representatives to buck the NRA, keep guns out of dangerous hands, and help save lives.”
This sit-in is similar to a Republican-led protest from 2008 when then-minority leader John Boehner along with a group of Republicans occupied the House floor while it was out of session to force a special vote on an energy bill. At the time, many people condemned the sit-in.
“I’m highly skeptical of efforts toward even those ends that feature members of Congress adopting the tactics of the powerless,” writes Conor Friedersdorf for the Atlantic. “When Republicans respond to not getting their way by undermining legislative norms, the press objects. It should object here.”