Civil rights icon Representative John Lewis leads House sit-in to demand vote on gun legislation


In the wake of the recent mass shooting in Orlando that left 49 people dead, Democrats in both houses of Congress have proposed legislation aimed to curb gun violence by expanding background checks to include guns purchased either online or at gun shows, and block anyone on the federal terrorist watchlist from purchasing deadly weapons.

Last week, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, saying “We have a moral obligation to act and not accept that this is inevitable,” began a 15-hour filibuster in the Senate that successfully forced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring a series of gun-related proposals to the floor. [All of the proposals failed, but at least we now know which U.S. Senators voted to put assault rifles into the hands of suspected terrorists, like the young man behind the Orlando attack.]

And, earlier today, civil rights icon John Lewis took up the cause on the floor of the House, in hopes of forcing House Speaker Paul Ryan to bring a similar vote. Ryan responded by ordering that the C-Span cameras be turned off, and calling for an end to the session once Lewis, having said, “We have turned deaf ears to the blood of the innocent and the concern of our nation,” began calling his fellow Democrats up from their seats to stage a sit-in, demanding “Give us a vote!” While the C-Span coverage went dead, though, the protest inside the House chamber continued to grow, as more Democratic Representatives came forward, and others, like Senators Chris Murphy, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, came to show their support. And those assembled began broadcasting on their phones by way of Periscope and Facebook. [Eventually, I’m told, C-Span began broadcasting this cell phone video.]

Here, to get a sense of how things began, is footage of Lewis calling his fellow Representatives to join him.

“We are blind to a crisis. Mr. Speaker, where is the heart of this body? Where is our soul?,” Lewis said as he announced his plans to sit down on the floor until such time that Paul Ryan would agree to call a roll-call vote, allowing the American people to see which of their elected officials had been bought by a weapons lobby unwilling to even consider the most basic common sense measures to address gun violence.

For those of you would would like to know more, here are a few relevant clips from around the internet…


…Democrats have tried numerous times over the past week to force a vote on a “no fly, no buy” bill, which would bar terror suspects on the “no-fly” list from purchasing guns. The sit-in represented a sharp escalation in the fight, however, putting political pressure on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to allow a roll-call vote on the policy issue that’s gotten the most traction following the Florida shooting.

But by early afternoon, there were no signs that Republicans would acquiesce to the Democrats’ demands for a vote. Republicans believe that if they give in now, it would encourage more such actions by Democrats, and one GOP leadership aide called the move a “Democrat publicity stunt.”

But Democrats claim they will stay on the floor as long as it takes. They want Ryan to cancel the mid-July recess to take up their proposal.

“We have been too quiet for too long,” Lewis said. “There comes a time when you have to say something. You have to make a little noise. You have to move your feet. This is the time”…

Washington Post:

…House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pledged that Democrats would stay on the floor until they get a vote.

“We’ll be here as long as it takes, every day,” she said during a news conference on the steps of the Capitol. “This is the moment of truth.”

But in appearance on CNN, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.) showed little inclination to meet Democrats’ demands, criticizing them for staging “a publicity stunt” and for calling for votes on “a bill that already died” in the Senate earlier this week.

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

Some Republicans said it was possible the lights and air conditioning would be turned off later in the night when the House adjourns for the day.

“You don’t usually leave the lights on all night long, and you don’t necessarily leave the air conditioning on,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), adding that he thinks the House should adjourn – but will leave it to Ryan to “decide what needs to happen and when.”


…As with much of the civil disobedience that fueled progress in the civil rights movement, Lewis’s involvement in efforts to end segregation involved knowingly violating the laws that enforced it. He was beaten by mobs and arrested by police.

And on Wednesday—more than 55 years after he first led lunch counter sit-ins—Lewis and his Democratic colleagues technically broke rules that forbid anyone from taking photos or video inside the House chamber, staying in place for a sit-in after the House had been called into recess.

“Sometimes you have to violate a rule, a law, to uphold a greater law, a moral law,” Lewis said Wednesday on CNN. “We have a right to sit down or sit in to engage in nonviolent protest. It is always right to do right”…

Talking Points Memo:

…One Republican congressman did not share in the spirit of a sit-in protest by House Democrats Wednesday on gun control legislation, tweeting that the demonstration was “a disgrace to Woolworth’s.”

Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) took to Twitter while the Democrats sat and made speeches on the House floor, referencing the 1960 sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, where four black students refused to leave after being denied service.

“Calling this a sit-in is a disgrace to Woolworth’s,” Walter wrote. “They sat-in for rights. Dems are ‘sitting-in’ to strip them away”…

In case it’s not obvious, the photo at the top of this post shows Elizabeth Warren, John Lewis, and our own Debbie Dingell sitting down in protest… Oh, and don’t feel too bad for Dingell, who looks painfully uncomfortable in the photo. Someone apparently found her a chair.


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  1. Eel
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    When Mark Walker (R-NC) says this is “a disgrace to Woolworth’s”, does he know that Woolworth’s was the entity running the segregated lunch counter?

  2. Ilana Houten
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    It’s nice that they decided to stage a sit in – now. The Johnny Come Latelys are worried about re-election. This sit-in should have happened a long time ago.

  3. wobblie
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    For once I’m with the Republicans on this. Besides this is all just political theater for the election season.

  4. Lynne
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I am not really sure what they are hoping to accomplish with this but I hope what they are going for is to motivate people to vote for people who support more gun control.

    I’ll note though that even though I am kind of extreme for an American on this issue in that I think it would be best for everyone if we repealed the second amendment and just banned most guns, I really dont like the idea of denying any rights to people on the terror watch list or the no-fly list. A terror watch list should only be a tool for law enforcement so they can better focus their investigations. It shouldnt be used to restrict people’s rights especially since we are in a culture where everyday bias means that people of certain ethnicities are more likely to be on the list than the white men who are the ones who do most of the shooting up and domestic acts of terrorism.

  5. alan2102
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    “block anyone on the federal terrorist watchlist from purchasing deadly weapons.”

    Would, by chance, Secretary of “Defense” Ashton Carter be on that watch list? Why not? We’ve got to STOP this horrific gun violence and terrorism!
    America Is Running the World’s Largest Terrorist Operation
    Experts on the Left and the Right Agree
    Global Research, April 22, 2014
    Is America the World’s Largest Sponsor of Terrorism?
    Posted on August 6, 2012 by WashingtonsBlog
    American Officials Admit that the U.S. Is a Huge Sponsor of Terrorism

  6. Anonymous
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think you can dismiss this as opportunism. I received this letter from Chris Murphy in December 2015.


    Last weekend, a man with a long history of violence against women and animal cruelty took an assault weapon into a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood where he shot and killed three people, including a police officer, an Iraq War Veteran and a mother of two. He also injured nine others.

    We’ve heard a lot of talk over the past few weeks about ISIS and the threat of terrorism. Keeping Connecticut safe is my number one priority, which is why I called on Congress to debate and vote on the ongoing air war against ISIS, and demanded new legislation that would tighten the U.S. visa waiver program to keep terrorists out of the United States. But to truly keep Connecticut families safe, Congress must do more than solely focus on terrorists. Since 2001, over 400,000 people have died in shootings in the United States vs. 3,380 in acts of terrorism.

    I believe this latest mass shooting will tragically raise the tally in both categories.

    Here’s the truth: if Congress won’t do anything to try to stop the soul-crushing, life-extinguishing gun violence epidemic in this country, then we might as well just pack up and go home.

    And one piece of legislation we should ALL agree on is passing a bill prohibiting people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns in the United States. Sign my petition if you agree.

    Tell Congress: you expect them to take action preventing people on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun in the United States of America.

    Since 2004, over two thousand people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list have legally purchased guns in the United States. That means while it takes a Syrian refugee two years to pass a background check to come to the United States, it takes someone on the terrorist watch list six minutes to pass one that allows him or her to buy a gun.

    Whether it’s mass shootings in America fueled by racism, religious fundamentalism, rage against women, or mental illness, I shudder to think what it says about us as a nation if we don’t even attempt to make a good faith effort to end this carnage.

    Yes, we should expand background checks. Yes, we should ban the sale of military-style assault weapons. Yes, we should limit high capacity magazines. Yes, we should keep domestic abusers from getting their hands on a gun.

    But really, if we can’t even take action to ensure that known foreign and domestic terrorists are unable to legally buy a gun in the United States, then what are we doing here?

    Sign my petition: tell Congress to close the “terror gap” that allows people on the terrorist watch list to legally buy guns in the United States.

    Our collective silence in the face of these mass shootings is complicity, and it sends a quiet message that we are willing to accept these murders.

    Surely keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists is something we can all agree on.

    Every best wish,

    Chris Murphy
    U.S. Senator, Connecticut

  7. Meta
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Ryan adjourned the House until July 5 rather than deal with the Democrats.

    After a chaotic, daylong occupation of the House floor, Republican leaders moved in the middle of the night to cut off House Democrats’ gun control sit-in by adjourning the House through the July 4 — without a vote on gun control.

    Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sought to to quell the Democratic demonstration by having lawmakers vote at 2:30 a.m. on several bills they had to pass this week, including one to combat the Zika virus. After that, Republican leaders sent lawmakers home until July 5, starting their already-scheduled recess a few days earlier than planned.
    Story Continued Below

    The move will deny Democrats any chance of votes on gun control legislation.
    Democrats, though, continued their sit-in after the House adjourned, and on Thursday morning the effort was still going, with the action being livestreamed online. They vowed not to stop until Ryan and GOP leaders relent.

    Read more:

  8. 734
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Welcome to America.

    “This Friday, the Battle Creek Bombers baseball team will host a “2nd Amendment Appreciation Night” encouraging people to attend the game while armed. Many have shown concern about the event as children will be present and alcohol will be served, but organizers say that anyone caught drinking while open carrying will be asked to leave.”

  9. Kat
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Debbie Dingell: “I lived in a house with a man that should not have access to a gun. I know what it’s like to see a gun pointed at you. And wonder if you are going to live. And I know what it’s like to hide in a closet and pray to God, “Do not let anything happen to me.” And we don’t talk about it, we don’t want to say that it happens in all kinds of households, and we still live in a society where we will let a convicted felon who was stalking somebody, of domestic abuse, still own a gun.” (

  10. Posted June 24, 2016 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    The terror watch list and the no fly list are gross violations of Constitutional protections for due process.

    It is wholly disturbing that these Representatives would work so hard to codify those lists even further.

    I support gun control, but this is not the way to do it.

  11. alan2102
    Posted June 24, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    “Our collective silence in the face of these mass shootings is complicity, and it sends a quiet message that we are willing to accept these murders. Surely keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists is something we can all agree on. Every best wish, Chris Murphy”

    Yes, Chris, our collective silence in the face of these mass shootings, bombings and dronings in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere is complicity, and it sends a quiet message that we are willing to accept these murders. Surely keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists in the U.S. military and State Department, and congress and senate, is something we can all agree on.

    Right, Chrissy-boo?

  12. EOS
    Posted June 24, 2016 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    I wish that those participating in this photo op would be as willing to protest the 3000 killed each day in abortion clinics in our country.

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