John Lewis of Georgia made an impassioned speech on the House floor Wednesday to continue the pressure on Republicans to enact gun control legislation in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Congress has been roiling with radical action in the days since the shooting, including Sen. Chris Murphy's 15-hour filibuster last week to force a vote in the Senate and the sit-in by House Democrats that Lewis and over a dozen other representatives lead earlier Wednesday.
House Democrats are demanding a vote on gun control legislation that would prohibit people on the federal no-fly and terror watch lists from purchasing guns and expand background checks, measures which 71 percent and 90 percent of Americans support, respectively. Four similar measures failed in the Senate on Monday, with votes largely along party lines, which doesn't bode well for the Republican controlled House. Republicans left the House chamber after the sit-in began, and backed down once again when dozens of Democrats started chanting "No bill, no break!" The clear lack of bipartisanship is not a great sign for a potential vote, but it's amazing to see how persistent House Democrats are being in their pursuit of a definitive change on gun control.
The Democrats also penned a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan declaring their objectives for the vote, which voiced the frustration of not enacting legislation that is supported by the vast majority of Americans. "There is broad agreement among Americans — greater than 90 percent by some measures — that expanding background checks for firearms purchases is a reasonable measure for this Congress to pass," wrote the group in the letter. "An overwhelming majority also agree that we should enact safety measures that keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists. The question before us is, what is this Congress waiting for?"
Unfortunately, the sit-in will all be for nothing unless the public reacts to it by reaching out to their representatives. The House of Representatives has very different procedural rules than the Senate, meaning representatives can't use filibusters to force votes. Rather than the sit-in having any actual power to force a vote, Lewis and his colleagues are trying to use the demonstration as more of a public campaign to prompt action within the House. Technically, it's actually against House rules to even sit on the floor, so they're risking a lot by taking this stand. The House is scheduled for a recess for the July 4 holiday, but Rep. Lewis is also trying to force Speaker Ryan to cancel that break and work on a temporary resolution to the gun control issue. It's especially important to support the House sit-in right now, because only from public pressure will the Republicans potentially change their votes and enact real gun control reform.