House Democrats Launch Sit-in to Demand Gun Reform

Michael Bowman, VOA
Contributors: Katherine Gypson, VOA; GunLink Staff

For a second consecutive week, Democrats in the U.S. Congress commandeered a chamber to demand action on Gun Control.

SitInTwitterHouse Democrats took to the floor en masse Wednesday, led by John Lewis (D-GA), and pledged to remain there in a “sit-in” until legislation is brought forward to stem carnage from firearms.

“Over the last 12 years, gun-related crimes claimed more American lives than AIDS, war and illegal drug overdoses combined,” Lewis said in a letter to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan announcing the protest. “We urge you to lead the House into action and work with both sides of the aisle to pass common sense solutions to keep American children and families safe.”

Republicans initially responded with gavel-banging and demands for order on the floor. When Democrats refused to disperse, Republicans recessed the chamber and turned off the microphones. Although lights continued to shine, proceedings ceased to be televised, because video is fed from the chamber only when it is in session.

Democrats responded by launching their own broadcasts, using the mobile application Periscope on their cell phones. A non-profit U.S. cable outfit that covers congressional proceedings (C-Span) began broadcasting the Periscope feeds.  

Senators’ actions

Wednesday’s House disruptions followed last week’s action by Senate Democrats on the other side of the Capitol. Led by Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Democrats spoke on the Senate floor for 15 consecutive hours, at which point Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to bring gun control measures up for a vote.

On Wednesday, several senators walked across the Capitol to join their House colleagues in a show of support.

Some believe that Lewis’ participation brought poignancy and historical gravitas to the House protest. An African-American, Lewis took part in the 1965 civil rights march from Selma, Alabama, that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” when state troopers attacked with clubs and tear gas. Lewis suffered a wound to his head.  Coincidentally, it appears that Lewis’s participation may have also brought something else:  hypocrisy, given that, according to CNN, John Lewis is, himself, on a secret terror watch list.  His presence on such a list may explain why “the Georgia Democrat had over the course of a year been held up [while attempting to fly] 35 to 40 times.”  A wrinkle for someone pushing the “No Fly, No Buy” gun control narrative whose irony is matched only by Hillary Clinton’s position that someone who has been investigated by the FBI should not be considered trustworthy enough to purchase a firearm but can still run for the office of the President of the United States.

Republicans’ responses

On Wednesday, some House Republicans responded to the Democratic protest with derision.

“Calling this a sit-in is a disgrace to [protests at] Woolworth’s [lunch counters],” tweeted Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, adding that the sit-ins of the past pressed for expanded civil rights, while Democrats want to “strip [gun rights] away.”

Rep. Steven Russell of Oklahoma told VOA the Democrats’ action amounted to grandstanding and “absolute theatrics.”

“I’m really disappointed that that’s what our institutions are eroding to,” Russell said. “I think we can do better.”

The sit-in drew attention from Speaker Ryan’s long-awaited unveiling of a Republican alternative to President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Ryan was away from the Capitol for much of the day, rolling out the Republican proposal at a Washington public policy research institute.

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