Gun violence victims from Miami and other cities rallied outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and demanded that Congress act on pending legislation to limit firearms sales in the wake of the Orlando massacre last month.
Wearing orange T-shirts to commemorate the 49 people murdered in Orlando and others shot to death, the activists heard rousing remarks from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and other Democratic leaders trying to continue the momentum for gun control sparked by an unusual overnight sit-in led by the civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., on the floor of the House of Representatives two weeks ago.
“The American public deserves so much more from our nation’s leaders than constant arguing,” said Antwan Reeves, a Miami-Dade Schools employee who survived an automatic-rifle attack on his cousin and him in Miami Gardens last November.
Saying “it’s a miracle that I’m here today,” Reeves told a riveting story of how he and his cousin, St. Louis Rams receiver Stedman Bailey, were sprayed with gunfire Nov. 24 while they sat in a car at Northwest 199th Street and 38th Place. Another vehicle pulled up alongside them and an occupant opened fire as Reeves shielded two of his children in the backseat.
Reeves took 11 bullets while Bailey was shot twice in the head, but both survived after Reeves somehow drove to Aventura Hospital and Medical Center and each underwent emergency surgery.
“The weapons used during that night of madness left behind 40 shell casings,” Reeves said at Wednesday’s demonstration. “These types of weapons should not be in possession of ordinary citizens.”
Ninety-one gun violence victims and other activists wore the orange T-shirts, symbolizing the number of Americans who die on average each day from firearms, the bulk of them by suicide.
91 The number of Americans on average who die each day by gunfire
Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat whose district includes Reeves’ home, attended the protest.
“We’re going to need the American public and pressure from the people of this nation to help us in this battle,” Wilson said after the rally.
She added: “I am tired of burying little black boys, and I even have a foundation set aside to pay for their funerals. So we’re going to fight. I’ve been in this battle for a long time, and I do not intend to give up now.”
Since the June 12 tragedy in Orlando, Republicans who control the Senate and the House have blocked mainly Democratic efforts to pass “no fly, no buy” legislation that would make it more difficult for people on FBI terror watch lists to purchase guns.
Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Miami-Dade and David Jolly of Indian Shores, Florida, are among a small number of Republicans who’ve broken with their party and pushed for those limited controls.
In remarks on the House floor Wednesday as the activists gathered outside, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., defended the delay in taking up the “no fly, no buy” measure.
“The last thing we’re going to do is rush something to the floor that we don’t have right,” Ryan said. “We want to get it right. We’re listening to suggestions from all of our colleagues.”
A Congress-imposed assault weapons ban was in effect from 2004 to 2014, but lawmakers have failed to reauthorize it.
As it has for years with other gun control initiatives, the National Rifle Association was pressuring lawmakers to oppose the bill and vowing to target those who support it for defeat in November.
Omar Mateen, a security guard from Port St. Lucie on Florida’s Atlantic coast, had been under FBI investigation twice for alleged jihadist sympathies but had been removed from any watch list when he bought the weapons he used in the killing spree at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
“The overwhelming majority of Americans want action to keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists and criminals,” Pelosi told the demonstration. “But the Republican House still refuses to disarm hate and allow a vote on common-sense gun violence protection.”
As about 300 gun control advocates chanted “No fly, no buy” at a fresh protest outside the Capitol, Lewis, who first made his name in the 1960s civil rights movement, fired them up.
“We cannot be quiet!” Lewis declared. “We cannot be patient!”
James Rosen: 202-383-0014; Twitter: @jamesmartinrose