Democrats in the House of Representatives shifted their gun legislation tactics this week from protests on the chamber floor to news conferences and speeches denouncing the bill – backed by the National Rifle Association – proposed by House Republicans.
At a news conference Wednesday on the steps of the Capitol, flanked by family members of gun violence victims, House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and John Lewis of Georgia, vowed they would continue to fight for their gun legislation to be brought to a vote. They didn’t say how.
Before the July Fourth holiday, they organized a 26-hour gun control sit-in on the House floor, forcing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to halt business.
The overwhelming majority of Americans want action to keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists and criminals. Real action; not a bill written by the gun lobby that they’re going to try and bring up today.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“We’re going to have some more action. We don’t know what form it’s going to take, but stay tuned,” said Lewis, an iconic civil rights leader who spearheaded the June 22-23 sit-in after the Orlando nightclub shooting that left 49 people dead and 53 wounded. “Stay tuned, be restless, stay with us, hang in there.”
When the House went back into session Tuesday, Democrats seemed to pick up where they’d left off, but without the drama. They gave dozens of speeches in support of gun legislation – their own gun legislation.
All of us know that the bills the Republicans are talking about bringing to the floor this week don't cut it. It's endorsed by the NRA and would make America less safe, not more safe.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
They denounced a gun measure being proposed by Republicans that seeks to keep firearms out of the hands of suspected terrorists, which is backed by the NRA.
“Americans are demanding a background check system that is a change for the better,” Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said on the House floor. “Unfortunately the bill before us crafted by the NRA will not deliver this to the American people.”
Democrats have asked Ryan to allow votes on two bills: one for “no fly, no buy” legislation that would block individuals on the terror watch list from buying guns and one for universal background checks on commercial gun sales. Ryan has made it clear he will not give in to the sit-in’s demands by bringing the bills to a vote.
“Win elections and get the majority, then you can set the agenda,” Ryan told Milwaukee radio station WTMJ.
The NRA-backed legislation, which is included in the broader anti-terrorism package, allows the government to block gun sales to suspected terrorists if they can prove within 72 hours that the individuals have links to terrorism.
Democrats said the measure would be unenforceable.
“I can’t get my dry cleaning back in 72 hours,” Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., said on the floor Tuesday.
“All of us know that the bills the Republicans are talking about bringing to the floor this week don’t cut it. It’s endorsed by the NRA and would make America less safe, not more safe,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on the Capitol steps Wednesday.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., who wrote the gun purchase provision, said Democrats’ refusal to support it proved that they were more interested in political stunts than passing gun legislation.
“Two weeks ago, House Democrats waged a disruptive and destructive sit-in to shut down Congress because they supposedly wanted to pass legislation that prevents terrorists from being able to purchase firearms,” he said Wednesday at the news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill. “Now they can, with this proposal coming to the House floor. But Democrats are opposing it for no good reason. It’s because they only want the political fight.”
Ryan is also facing opposition from within his party over the gun measure, with the conservative House Freedom Caucus opposing it because, they say, it fails to “adequately protect due process” by stripping people’s constitutional right to bear arms before they have committed crimes.
The legislation is likely to go nowhere, since a similar measure already failed in the Senate.
The week’s news, from Donald Trump’s upcoming meeting with Republican leaders Thursday to the FBI statement about Hillary Clinton’s emails, has overshadowed the Democrats’ standoff on guns.
While dozens of gun control advocates with “Disarm Hate” signs cheered with calls of “Enough is enough!” and “We’re with you!” during the news conference Wednesday, House Democrats stopped short of revealing any next steps.
Some Republicans who are still angry about the House floor blockade want to punish the Democrats for breaking protocol by taking photos and posting them on social media as well as live-streaming the protest from the chamber. Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have said they will meet with the House sergeant-at-arms later this week to discuss whether there should be any repercussions.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article gave the wrong title for House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.