Democrats staged a 1960s-style sit-in on the U.S. House floor June 22–23, chanting, “No bill. No Break.” The protest was intended to call attention to Republicans’ inaction against gun violence in the wake of the largest mass shooting in modern history at a gay dance club in Orlando.
House Speaker Paul Ryan responded by shutting off all public access to the scene.
“Speaker Ryan may have turned off the floor cameras in an attempt to silence us, but we will continue to stand up and give a voice to the majority of Americans who demand commonsense gun safety reforms,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a longtime veteran of the civil rights movement, organized the protest along with Reps. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and David Cicilline of Rhode Island.
In the hours that Democrats held the floor, they spoke about an epidemic of violence in the United States. With the blackout on C-SPAN’s coverage — the service does not control the floor cameras — members took videos of each other to share on social media.
California Democrat Eric Swalwell videotaped New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s speech, delivered at about 2 a.m. June 23.
“No other country in the world other than those involved in active wars have gun deaths more than three digits,” Nadler said. … We have 33,000 a year. We’re told this is because of insanity. Because we have mentally ill people. But we don’t have thousands of times more mentally ill people than other countries.”
Nadler said if House Republicans refuse to pass an assault weapons ban or prohibit large capacity clips, they could at least close the loopholes in background checks and bar people on the no-fly list from gun purchases.
Ryan dismissed the sit-in as a political stunt.
He also dismissed the idea of “no fly, no buy,” saying it would deprive people of due process and the constitutional right to possess guns.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate, Democrats continued to press for reform even after failed votes on measures to expand background checks and keep people on the no-fly list from getting guns.
President Barack Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton echoed the calls for tighter gun laws. Clinton, early in her campaign, made enacting gun control measures a priority.
Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, suggested the solution to gun violence is arming more people with guns.
“It’s too bad that some of the young people that were killed over the weekend didn’t have guns, you know, attached to their hips, and you know where bullets could have flown in the opposite direction,” Trump told radio host Howie Carr on June 13, the day after the shooting in Orlando. Later, Trump said he was referring to guards and employees.
Chad Griffin, the president and CEO of the Human Rights Campaign, said the shooting was a “toxic combination of two things: a deranged, unstable individual who had been conditioned to hate people and easy access to military-style guns.”
HRC is the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. In late June, its board of directors adopted a resolution on gun control measures, an unprecedented move for the group.
Americans are divided on gun control.
Polls put those favoring gun control over gun rights at about 50 percent, down from 57 percent in 2000. Those who favor gun rights over gun control increased from about 29 percent in 2000 to 47 percent in 2015.
When particular gun control steps are considered, however, the picture changes. A Pew poll conducted last August showed:
• 85 percent of people support background checks for purchases at gun shows and in private sales.
• 79 percent support laws to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns.
• 70 percent support a federal database to track gun sales.
• 57 percent support a ban on assault weapons.
“Congress can’t even pass mild, commonsense gun control legislation supported by vast majorities of Americans,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the activist group CODEPINK, which recently staged a die-in at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. “The stranglehold the NRA has on our elected officials is breathtaking, and its effects are devastating to our families and communities.”
Big bucks for big guns
Gun rights groups contributed $33,925 to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who is running for re-election in Wisconsin against Democrat Russ Feingold.
The No. 2 payout was to U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, whose campaign has received $29,295 from gun rights groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Since the start of 2015, Senate Republicans have received $304,319 from gun rights groups. During that same period, Democrats have received $7,250.