The nation is still in grief after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history occurred Sunday, and there have been many symbolic demonstrations of respect for everyone affected by the tragedy. But after House Republicans called for a moment of silence for the victims, Democratic lawmakers shouted in protest — not because they opposed respect for the victims, but because a “moment of silence” does nothing to stop future massacres. Passing a gun control bill might, and the GOP won’t do that.
On Monday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan requested that legislators participate in a moment of silence for the victims of the Orlando shooting. For ten seconds or so, everybody dutifully observed. After Ryan banged the gavel, however, all hell broke loose. Ryan attempted to move on to other business, but Democrats interrupted him, repeatedly shouting “Where’s the bill” and “Show some respect!”
“Order, order!” Ryan yelped, to no avail.
The pandemonium continued for around 20 seconds before calming down. At that point, Democratic Rep. James Clyburn attempted to make remarks about the mass shooting in Charleston, as the first anniversary of that tragedy is approaching. Ryan cut him off, and the House descended into chaos again.
Ostensibly, Democrats were protesting the GOP’s refusal to bring three specific gun measures up for a vote, all of which were proposed after the Charleston shooting. More broadly, they were objecting to the fact that Congressional Republicans, despite their calls for moments of silence, have blocked almost every attempt to pass gun control legislation. Several Democrats, including Rep. Jim Himes, walked out of the chamber in protest before the moment of silence even began.
"The fact is that a moment of silence is an act of respect, and we supported that. But it is a not a license to do nothing," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi after the fracas. "Members have just had enough of having one minute, a moment of silence on the floor, and then take no action.”
To that end, Senate Democrats are attempting to revive one of the pieces of legislation that’s been shelved in the House: A bill that would prevent people on the terror watch list from purchasing guns. That sort of seems like the kind of thing that should already be the law, but remarkably, it is not.
The Democrats’ protest in the House is reminiscent of the reaction many people have to politicians who can only offer “hopes and prayers” for victims of shootings. Symbolic demonstrations of respect, while noble, are no substitute for action. And despite the frequency with which mass shootings occur, Congressional Republicans have refused to take action.