House Representatives John Lewis (center), Elizabeth Esty (left) and Janice Hahn (right) sit on the floor of the House gallery protesting inaction by Congress to reform gun sale loopholes. Photo courtesy of Rep. Elizabeth Esty's Twitter.
Members of the House of Representatives staged a sit-in this morning on the House floor demanding that Speaker Paul Ryan allow a vote on a bill that could possibly allow for the blockage of gun sales to people on the national no-fly list, and for expanded background checks. The sit-in, which started at approximately 8:30 AM PDT, had dozens of lawmakers seated on the floor in protest over the inaction of congress, vowing to remain seated until the governing body addresses gun reform in the country.
The event was sparked by a call to action by Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis, who called his Democrat colleagues to the floor before delivering a scathing speech demanding that the speaker allow a vote, stating “we came here to work.” He said leadership needed to take a stand on what he called long-overdue gun reform.
"Sometimes you have to do something out of the ordinary. Sometimes you have to make a way out of no way. We have been too quiet for too long," Lewis said. "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.”
The resulting sit-in commenced about four minutes into the regularly scheduled House session, one that included a vote on a financial services bill for the 2017 fiscal year. Instead of any business being attended to, the House chambers have been a relentless series of speeches from elected officials questioning the courage of their colleagues across the aisle and intermittent chants of "No Bill, No Break," a reference to the upcoming week-long break for the Fourth of July recess.
Much of the coverage of the sit-in, although broadcast live by C-SPAN, was largely disseminated through social media due to the cameras in the chamber being controlled by the house and not being permitted to show the sit-in.
According to the House rule book, the Speaker of the House “shall administer, direct, and control a system for complete and unedited audio and visual broadcasting and recording of the floor proceedings of the house”, that system is “subject to rules and regulations issued by the speaker.” The rules also stipulate that the cameras need only be on when the house is in session, therefore the decision to adjourn amounted to a legal blackout of the protest.
C-SPAN Co-CEO Susan Swain confirmed this fact via Twitter, stating that C-SPAN merely broadcasts the footage provided to them but has no control of where the cameras are pointed.
Reminder: all video of #House floor is controlled by House itself. @cspan not permitted to have cameras in chamber https://t.co/UlZqqWu1Nr — susan swain (@cspanSusan) June 22, 2016
Before the cameras were cut, completely forcing networks to rely exclusively on videos posted to Facebook and Periscope, the cameras were trained away from the floor, where the lawmakers were holding their sit-in. When the house adjourned for recess, the microphones and the camera feed was cut entirely, but the Democrats continued to speak at the lectern and post to social media.
The latter may have been a bending of the rules for the lawmakers, as the House media guidelines strictly prohibit shooting live video from inside the gallery. However, without the Democrats’ lawlessness, much of the sit-in would’ve been lost, as the camera feed was indeed closed off.
Representative Janice Hahn, who is currently campaigning to replace Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, also joined her colleagues in protest. Last week, Hahn echoed the demands of many Democrats since the deadly shooting in an Orlando gay nightclub that killed 49 people and injured 53 others earlier this month—that meaningful steps need to be taken to prevent another tragedy.
“Today my colleagues and I are holding a sit-in on the house floor, demanding that we have a vote on common sense legislation to prevent gun violence in this country," Hahn said in a video posted to Facebook. “We can't take it anymore and we're done with moments of silence.”
Representative Alan Lowenthal, who represents California’s 47th District including nearly all of Long Beach, spoke on the issue of gun violence in America by evoking Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain!, a poem written about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. At the end of the reading of Whitman’s poem Lowenthal’s voice peaked as he passionately called for change.
“We will be silent no more; we will speak up for America,” Lowenthal said. “We demand action; we demand the bill; we demand that debate.”
The protest to try and force the Republican-dominated Congress to act on gun reform votes comes just a week after Democrats in the Senate filibustered for nearly 15 hours to force the GOP-controlled Senate to allow for a series of gun bills to make it to the floor. Those bills were voted down Monday, with the lawmakers’ votes revealing a sharp partisan divide.
In a statement, Lowenthal said that the protest was not about demanding a result, but about demanding a vote as time and time again the Republican controlled House has refused to bring the issue to the floor even in the wake of horrible tragedies like Newtown, Charleston, Aurora, and most recently Orlando.
“This cannot continue. This is a moment of truth. Congress cannot hold another moment of silence for victims of gun violence – and we cannot go back to our districts – without taking action to prevent the next tragedy,” Lowenthal said. ““By sitting down, we are standing up for commonsense gun violence prevention legislation that is overwhelmingly supported by the American people.”