US Democrats stage sit-in in support of gun reforms

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jun 23, 2016 21:41 IST
A photo shot and tweeted from the floor of the US House of Representatives by Rep Katherine Clark shows Democratic members of the House staging a sit-in on the floor "to demand action on common sense gun legislation". (Reuters)

Led by John Lewis, a lawmaker who counts Mahatma Gandhi among his inspirations, Democratic lawmakers started a sit-in in support of gun control in the US House of Representatives on Wednesday.

They were there till late on Thursday morning, despite the House being adjourned till July 5 for a long-scheduled recess. It was unclear how long they planned to continue.

The Democrats are demanding a vote on two bills preventing terrorists such as the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, from buying guns, similar to the measure rejected by the Senate.

The House of Representatives hasn’t had a vote on gun control measures since 2011, when Republicans took control of the chamber. The issue didn’t come up even after the Newtown school massacre in 2012.

“My colleagues and I have had enough,” Lewis said, starting the protest on Wednesday morning. “We are sitting-in on the House Floor until we get a vote to address gun violence.”

Lewis, who represents Georgia, was a member of Martin Luther King’s team that led the civil rights movement, and describes himself as a “student” of King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

“Thank you for getting in trouble! Good trouble,” Lewis told his sit-in colleagues on Wednesday night. “Sometimes by sitting down, by sitting in, you’re standing up.”

This photo provided by Rep John Yarmuth shows Democrat members of Congress, including Rep John Lewis (center), participate in a sit-down protest seeking a a vote on gun control measures on Wednesday. (AP)

So they did, with their numbers surging and ebbing. They spent the night on the floor of the House, in sleeping bags brought by aides. And they were there when America woke up.

When the House cameras were switched off, they reached out through live streams on Periscope and Facebook, making speeches and shouting slogans such as “No Bill, no break”.

The “break” meant the prescheduled recess, which went into effect on Thursday. But the sit-in was still on, with lawmakers refusing to leave the floor even for the routine security sweep.

Speaker Paul Ryan resumed proceedings briefly late on Wednesday to pass scheduled legislations amid protests from the Democrats, and adjourned the House, seeing it into the recess.

Even if the House stayed in session, the chances of Ryan calling for a vote looked dim at best. He dismissed the sit-in as a “publicity stunt” and said it was all “about trying to get attention”.

Ryan told CNN: “People have a guaranteed right to Second Amendment rights …We’re not going to take away a person’s constitutionally guaranteed rights without due process.”

That’s how the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby, has broadly reacted to every attempt to reform gun laws, branding it as an assault on the right to bear arms.

An NRA radio host compared lawmakers involved in the sit-in to “criminals and terrorists” for flouting House rules on photography as they live-streamed their protest.

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