If you want proof that the Democratic sit-in over gun control was a success, look no further: On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan told Republicans that the House of Representatives will hold a vote on legislation to ban suspected terrorists from purchasing guns. Sometimes, political theater works.
After the shooting in Orlando earlier in the month, Democrats proposed a “no fly, no buy” law that would prohibit Americans who are on terror watch lists from buying firearms. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy championed the bill in the Senate, where it was defeated, but House Democrats pushed for a vote on the same bill.
When Ryan refused, Democrats launched a 26-hour sit-in on the House floor, singing “We Shall Overcome” and refusing to leave until Ryan relented. Democrats eventually did leave, and now, it appears that Ryan has relented.
To be sure, it’s unclear precisely what bill Ryan is going to put up for a vote. It will be “a terrorism package that will include measures to disrupt radicalization and recruitment, as well as a provision to prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing guns,” The Hill reported. Since it won’t be a stand-alone bill, this raises the possibility that Republicans might insert “poison pill” language into the package in order to dissuade Democrats voting for it.
Still, because this legislation is being put up for a vote means that the sit-in, as a political tactic, was a smashing success. And this wasn’t clear at the time: While the sit-in became a sensation on social media, it was also criticized on multiple fronts. Many saw it as a crude political stunt, while others argued that this was the wrong gun control bill for liberals to take a stand on.
Those were valid criticisms. The sit-in was most definitely political theater, and there are legitimate concerns that “no fly, no buy” legislation might lead to overreach, ensnaring Americans who haven’t committed any wrongdoing. And, of course, the Senate has already voted down the bill, and a bill has to pass the Senate in order to become law.
But if the sit-in was a political stunt, it was a highly effective one — and lest we forget, congressional Republicans have been known to engage in a bit of political theater of their own. And from a purely tactical standpoint, it makes sense that the Democrats pushed the bill they did: Championing this legislation allowed Democrats to push a liberal policy goal — stronger gun regulations — while also depicting Republicans as weak on terrorism if they don’t support it (the Orlando shooter had been on a terror watch list).
In short, Democrats saw an opportunity, took it, and now it’s paying off. It’s unclear what happens from here, because even if the House passes the bill, there’s a strong possibility that it will be stonewalled in the Senate. But Democrats have put House Republicans in a difficult position: Either they capitulate and vote for the bill, thus vindicating the sit-in, or they vote against it and become the subject of Democratic campaign ads across the country. You can say a lot of things about the sit-in, but you can’t say it didn’t work.