Wanted to be sure you saw today’s op-ed by Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD-5) in The Hill about House Democrats' sit-in on the House Floor earlier this week. Democrats stayed on the Floor for nearly twenty-six hours to demand House Republicans bring legislation to address gun violence to a vote. To read the op-ed, click here or see it below:
Democrats Took a Stand Through the Powerful Act of Sitting Down
By Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer
June 24, 2016
Rep. John Lewis understands better than anyone that sometimes the best way to stand up for something is to sit down. As a student leader during the Civil Rights Movement, he participated in lunch counter sit-ins to demand that his country recognize his basic right to eat. In Selma, when his march for the right to vote was met with a sea of armed state troopers, he dropped to his knees in prayer – he would not be moved except by force. When John asked his House Democratic colleagues to join him for a sit-in on the House Floor on Wednesday morning, we knew it was time to take a stand, and we would do it by the powerful act of sitting down.
We sat on the House Floor not to shut it down but to open it up. By refusing to allow votes even on measures with broad, bipartisan support that would prevent unnecessary killings by gun violence, it was the Republican Majority, supported by the NRA, that had truly shut down the Floor. Just days earlier, the attack in Orlando showed Americans once again how easy it is to obtain military-style assault weapons. Under investigation for terrorism and can’t get on a plane? No problem – buy a gun. Don’t like a certain ethnic or religious group and have a history of violence? No need for a background check. Have a criminal history of domestic violence? Nothing to stop you from purchasing a gun.
According to the Brady Campaign, on average, 108,000 Americans are shot each year, and 32,500 of them are killed. In some of our cities, an epidemic of gun violence has spread like a virus. Since the beginning of the year more than 1,300 people have been gunned down on the streets of Chicago, a 50% increase over 2015. To hear Rep. Robin Kelly speak about the impact on the communities she represents is heartbreaking. So too when I listen to Reps. John Larson and Elizabeth Esty share the pain of the Newtown families in Connecticut. Along with Rep. Katherine Clark and Rep. David Cicilline, Reps. Kelly and Larson joined Rep. Lewis in leading our sit-in. Democratic Members of Congress from all across the country have constituents who are suffering similar heartbreak, and we all sat together in solidarity, honoring the victims and their families.
Our nation has fallen into a pattern of grief and inaction. Whenever a mass murder occurs, whether against worshippers at a church, schoolchildren in their classrooms, moviegoers in a theater, or young people in a nightclub, we pray for the victims and their families. We hold moments of silence – in fact, Congress has held more than twenty-five moments of silence for mass shootings since Newtown. But whenever Democrats have asked Republicans, who control Congress, to allow votes on even the most commonsense, bipartisan reforms to make our communities safer from guns, their answer is always the same: silence and inaction.
After the carnage in Orlando, it became clearer than ever that prayers and moments of silence are not enough. Even after Senate Republicans agreed, under pressure, to hold votes on gun safety bills and began negotiating on a bipartisan measure to keep those on the “no fly” list from buying dangerous firearms, House Republicans continued their silence and their obstruction. Democrats had no choice but to take dramatic action to ensure that the issue of gun safety could not be ignored. So we sat down. We took turns sharing the stories of loved ones or constituents who had died from gun violence. We sang the spirituals that sustained John and his compatriots in the Civil Rights Movement. And we held up the names of those we’ve lost, ensuring they are not forgotten.
Still unwilling to allow a vote to save lives and keep guns out of the hands of terror suspects and those who shouldn’t have them, Republicans simply adjourned the House on Wednesday night – two days early – and went home. We may not yet have won the fight to secure a vote, but we achieved a major victory in our twenty-six hour sit-in. We made it impossible for Republicans to ignore the issue of gun violence any longer. We put them on notice – on behalf of the overwhelming majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents that support commonsense reforms – that moments of silence alone are not enough.
Congress has a responsibility to keep the American people safe. Right now, the Republican-led Congress is failing dismally to meet that basic duty. As long as they continue to do so, House Democrats will keep doing whatever it takes to end the gridlock and demand real action to end the scourge of gun violence that is plaguing our nation.