WASHINGTON, D.C. – Local members of Congress are participating in a sit-in in the Well of the House of Representatives that is entering its second day in an effort to force House leadership to vote on gun control measures. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-4) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5) were joined by Montgomery County Rep. Chris […]
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Local members of Congress are participating in a sit-in in the Well of the House of Representatives that is entering its second day in an effort to force House leadership to vote on gun control measures.
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-4) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5) were joined by Montgomery County Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-8), Maryland’s Democratic Senate candidate, as well as retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), on June 22 as they sat on the floor of the House of Representatives with other Democratic colleagues. The sit-in was an attempt to force Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to call a vote on measures that would prohibit people on terrorist watch lists such as the no-fly list from purchasing firearms and would expand background checks for gun purchasers. The sit-in was a tactic favored by members of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, and the House’s effort was led by Civil Rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
“We have lost hundreds of thousands of innocent people to gun violence. And what has this body done? Mr. Speaker, nothing. Not one thing,” he said to begin the sit-in. “The time for silence and patience is long gone. Let us vote! We can no longer wait. So today we come to the Well of the House to dramatize the need for action. Sometimes you have to do something out of the ordinary.”
Edwards was among the first group to join Lewis in the Well, the portion of the House floor where the speaker and other leadership sit and from which members give remarks. She later gave a speech where she explained why she supports expanding background checks for those seeking to purchase a weapon.
“A person who buys or sells hundreds of guns at gun shows can say sales are for personal collection and therefore they do not need a license, nor do they need to conduct a background check or record the sale. Such unlicensed dealers are a significant source of crime guns, with estimates of 40 percent of all purchases made through them and therefore without a background check,” she said.
Hoyer, the House Minority Whip, spoke several times during the sit-in, urging Ryan to call a vote on the measures.
“We are in this Well to say, redeem your promise to the people’s House that we will take issues of consequence to America head-on. Mr. Speaker, you have been faced with issues of moral weight, just this past month. This is such an issue. This is an issue the American people are asking us to say where we stand. That’s what a vote will do,” he said.
But Ryan did not call the gun measures up for a vote, instead calling the House into session twice late Wednesday night to vote on unrelated matters before adjourning until July 5.
Speaking with CNN, Ryan said citizens can be added to the terror watch lists, including the no fly list, by government agencies without due process. He also pointed out that the measures the Democrats are supporting were already voted down in the Senate.
“We are not going to take away a citizen’s due process rights, we are not going to take away a citizen’s constitutional rights, without due process,” he said. “We don’t agree with that, and the Senate already doesn’t agree with it.”
However, Edwards believes that there is a way to balance rights with protecting the public from gun violence.
“A vocal minority stands in the way of common sense proposals to make our nation safer. Those voices are forcing a false choice between constitutional rights and safe streets. We can do both. Congress can and must enact laws that improve the public’s safety, while still respecting the Constitution,” she said.
Van Hollen, who made gun control a large part of his primary election campaign, agreed and said the voices opposing these reforms are in the minority.
“These common sense gun measures are measures that we know have the overwhelming support of the American people. Democrats, Republicans, Independents – over 80 percent of the American people, who can tell us it doesn’t make sense to say that, if you’re too unsafe and too much of a risk to board an airplane, that it’s okay for you to walk down the street, go to a gun shop, and buy a semi-automatic assault weapon,” he said.
Democrats had pledged to remain on the floor until a vote was taken, but ended the sit-in just before 1:30 p.m. Thursday.