U.S. House Democrats Stage Sit-in Led by John Lewis on Floor of Congress Over Guns

Rep. John Lewis sits next to Rep. Gregory Meeks on the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., on June 22, 2016.

Rep. John Lewis sits next to Rep. Gregory Meeks on the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., on June 22, 2016. (LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE)

article by Lauren Victoria Burke via theroot.com

At noon Wednesday, members of the House shut it down—all the way down.

In a historic act of protest, Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives refused to observe the regular order of the House, staging a sit-in protest over the lack of legislation on gun control.

The protest Wednesday occurred after House Republicans ignored several demands from House Democrats to take action on guns after 49 people were murdered in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub June 12. Their first demand came during a moment of silence for the victims of the mass shooting after Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) attempted to ask Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) if action on gun-related measures was possible. Ryan gaveled Clyburn down.

Wednesday’s effort was led by civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and featured several members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have had to deal with continuing gun violence in their districts. The group included Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), who represents parts of Detroit; Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.); and several others.

“This is the right thing to do, when you look at the polling data and it shows that 90 percent of the American public says we should not allow terrorists to be able to walk in a store and buy a gun and kill 50 people,” former Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) told The Root steps away from the House floor. “We don’t lose on this. The Congressional Black Caucus did lead this.”

In sharp comments pointed directly at House Republicans, Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Cedric Richmond (D-La.) directed blame at the National Rifle Association and the cowardice of GOP members.

“There have been many, many shootings that have gotten no press and no attention. Enough is enough,” said Waters.

“You are doing what you are doing because you don’t have the guts to stand up to the gun lobby,” said Richmond in a speech at the start of the House-floor sit-in, with comments addressing what he viewed as GOP obstruction.

“I stand for gun victims in Chicago,” said Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who represents parts of the city. David then read off the names of the many in his district killed by gun violence.

On the House floor, several members reminded those in the press and visitor gallery, as well as those watching on social media, of the routine gun violence in cities in their districts that is often ignored in the press.

“Just this past weekend in the city of Chicago, in the city that I love … just this past weekend, 26 Chicagoans shot in one weekend. Thirteen killed over Father’s Day weekend. Enough is enough,” Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who represents parts of Chicago, said forcefully.

“I have a message for the Republicans: You can run but you can’t hide. There is no hiding place that will keep you from doing the right thing, and from the murders and the crime and killing that goes on in our nation today,” concluded Rush in dramatic fashion.

Seated in the front of the House chamber on the floor were Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Alma Adams (D-N.C.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and several others. Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) were also seen on the House floor during the protest.

We have people “being snuffed out by weapons of war on the streets of our country; we have to let Republicans know that they are culpable in these gun crimes,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) on the House floor during the protest.

“We are prepared to spend the night here and then tomorrow night and then the next night. We are empowered because the American public [is] with us. People are already in the back discussing where they are going to sleep,” Cleaver said.

Republicans who control the chamber declared that the protesting members were out of order and put the House in recess. They then cut off the government-controlled cameras utilized by C-SPAN.

Later, the microphones at various lecterns on the House floor were cut off. Officials that run the House chamber were seen scurrying around confused about what do next. Despite attempts to block video and audio transmissions, several members taking part in the protest used social media to send images and video out to the public.

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