Leadership on the House Floor
Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) went to the well of the House of Representatives today and asked colleagues to join him. His impassioned message: “What will finally make Congress do what is right” to reduce gun violence? “We can no longer be patient,” he said. And so he and many other House members (and some supportive Senators) are staging a “sit-in” on the House floor. Speaker Ryan and his team hastily called a recess, to shut down the official cameras. As of now, NBC is live-streaming the statements of House members who are calling for #NoBillNoBreak – they want votes on ending the loopholes that prevent background checks for gun sales at gun shows or online and on allowing gun sales to be denied to those on terror watch lists. They are willing to hold up action on an appropriations bill until there is a commitment to take votes to limit gun violence. They don’t think it’s right for the House to leave for its Independence Day recess without having acted.
Even with a Republican majority in the House, it is likely that if votes like these were scheduled, they would pass. But so far, the power of the National Rifle Association remains firm, and the odds are decidedly against scheduling such a vote.
Over in the Senate, they need 60 votes to pass limits on gun sales, and they didn’t have 60 earlier this week. Now they are negotiating on a very limited measure put forward by Senator Collins (R-ME), and it isn’t clear they will have 60 votes for that. But the atmosphere is changing – a little. It is harder for Senators and Reps to simply ignore the grief and anger over yet more lives taken.
I understand there are no magic solutions to violence. We are awash in guns – nearly 300 million in the U.S. (Congressional Research Service estimate for 2007). The number of firearms manufactured in the U.S. about doubled from 2010 to 2013, to roughly 11 million. But because we don’t have a perfect solution in front of us is no excuse for doing nothing at all. Assault weapons have been limited in the past. We should do what we can to make it harder for would-be killers for get their hands on them. If the killers in Orlando or Newtown did not have automatic weapons, some lives would have been saved. Background checks won’t stop all killers. But they would likely prevent some death or injury.
Every life is precious. That includes lives cut short in mass killings. It includes individual victims. According to the Brady Campaign, 89 people die every day from gun violence, including 31 murdered and 55 who kill themselves. We can save some of those lives.
So thank you, Congressman Lewis, for one more demonstration of leadership. Thanks to all those in the House and Senate who are trying to lead. They cannot prevail without us. On the podium on the House floor, they’ve placed the phone number for the Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121. The NRA maintains its grip on Congress because their members call. People who want sensible measures to prevent violence often don’t. If you have grieved over children at Sandy Hook, or the LGBT community members in Orlando, or our children and youth cut down on streets or in their homes all across this country, pick up the phone, call (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Representative and/or Senators. Make them understand they must, finally, act.