Civil rights icon and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., led House Democrats through a Wednesday sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives to demand a vote on gun control legislation. As of 6:30 p.m. ET, the sit-in was still going on.
Democrats are pushing for a vote on the so-called “no fly, no buy” bill, which would prevent those on terrorist watch lists from purchasing arms. The measure gained public traction after a gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12.
In a speech on the House floor prior to the sit-in, Lewis said he held “executive sessions” with himself on several occasions to ponder what it would take to spur Congress to action on gun violence legislation.
“For months, even for years, through several sessions of Congress, I wondered: ‘What would bring this body to take action? What would finally make Congress do what is right, what is just, what the people of this country have been demanding, and what is long overdue?’” Lewis said. “We have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence: tiny little children, babies, students and teachers, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, friends and neighbors.”
Lewis accused Congress of turning a deaf ear to the blood of the innocent and the concerns of the nation. He also asked where the legislature’s moral leadership and courage could be found.
“We must remove the blinders. The time for silence and patience is long gone,” he said. “We are calling on the leadership of the House to bring common-sense gun control legislation to the House floor. Give us a vote! Let us vote! We came here to do our job. We came here to work!”
Democratic Reps. Donna Edwards and Steny Hoyer of Maryland, John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Joe Crowley of New York, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Katherine Clark of Massachusetts were among the politicians to join Lewis in the protest. They have vowed to “occupy” the House floor until the Republican leadership allows a vote on the bill at hand.
Right before they all sat down, Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., said, “Rise up, Democrats! Rise up, Americans. This cannot stand. We will occupy this floor. We will no longer be denied the right to vote.”
Edwards took to Twitter to explain the group’s actions. She said gun violence has become “unacceptably commonplace” in the United States and more than 89 people die from it each day.
It isn’t just mass shootings. Guns have taken more lives in the US since 1968 than were lost in all of the wars this Nation has ever fought.
— Rep Donna F Edwards (@repdonnaedwards) June 22, 2016
A tweet from President Obama’s official Twitter account thanked Lewis for leading the fight against gun violence. Lewis replied, “Thank you, Mr. President. I’m just trying to help out and make a contribution.”
Thank you John Lewis for leading on gun violence where we need it most. https://t.co/vctfqAH5Wt
— President Obama (@POTUS) June 22, 2016
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted praise for Lewis’ impassioned speech. She added, “This is what real leadership looks like.”
This is what real leadership looks like. https://t.co/4Nh6QpqSxL
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 22, 2016
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., however, had a much different opinion. In a Wednesday evening interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, he said Republicans would not bring a bill to the floor that violated constitutional liberties.
“This is nothing more than a publicity stunt,” Ryan said of the sit-in. “This is not about a solution to a problem. This is about trying to get attention.”
The chamber was recessed, and the presiding member cut off the microphone and then the video feeds from the House. A senior House GOP leadership aide said on background that all members of the House voted that the TV cameras would only be on when the House is in session and that this rule has been enforced since they were first installed.
“It’s worth noting that when House Democrats were in the majority, they not only shut off the cameras, they actually shut off the lights,” the aide said.
Many blamed CSPAN, which broadcasts from the floor, for the disruption in the TV feed, but the public affairs channel said it did not control the cameras.
C-SPAN has no control over the U.S. House TV cameras.
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 22, 2016
With the cameras down, many Democrats, including Reps. Scott Peters of California and Beto O’Rourke of Texas, used the Periscope video app to live-stream speeches given by other participants.
At around noon, the chamber attempted to return to normal business. Speaker Pro Tempore Ted Poe, R-Texas, saidHe then took the House back into recess as Democrats chanted, “No bill, no break.”