We’ve just lived through three gun-related tragedies in one week—including for the first time in recent memory the slaughter of police officers, which is the kind of thing you might think would get Republicans’ attention. But despite Rep. John Lewis and the Congressional Black Caucus’s commitment to meaningful gun reform, Speaker Paul Ryan won’t budge on the two measures Democrats are requesting votes on.
In fact, Lewis’s action should be a welcome development during a time of national crisis. Yet Republican obstructionism, and demonization of the Democrats’ civil disobedience, will probably remain the status quo.
A memo sent by CBC members to Democratic offices asked its members “to be as disruptive to Speaker Ryan as possible” and called for a “day of action on the floor in regards to gun violence.” And not surprisingly, Republican legislators and conservative media were up in arms at this attempt to impede congressional proceedings, but their predictable outrage only showed anew how out of touch and destructive conservatives have become.
Conservative media interpreted the CBC’s strategy as nothing more than a pointless, disruptive stunt, and Ryan said that he would not “tolerate” any more disruptions from House Democrats. House Republicans argue that Democrats have violated Rule XVII, which governs decorum and debate. But the issue at hand isn’t about decorum or debate. It is about whether Republicans, who control this so-called “house of the people,” will allow a vote on something that 80 percent or more of the people support—gun-control legislation. Sadly the GOP prefers to prevent a vote by any means necessary, for reasons that are entirely political and have very little to do with governing.
“Republicans are no dummies. They know what Democrats would do if the GOP allowed votes on those amendments and Republicans voted nay,” said Chad Pergram of Fox News. “Democrats would immediately empanel [sic] political allies and the [DCCC] to document how endangered Republicans cast their ballots. Democrats would then run ads and generate a public outcry against Republicans who voted no.”
In addition, any Republican who voted for a gun-control measure would probably face an NRA-backed primary opponent. So there is no ambiguity, even among conservative media outlets, that the GOP’s motivations are primarily focused around self-preservation and not about addressing the gun violence epidemic that continues to engulf America.
Conservative outlets also argue that the Democrats’ bill is unreasonable, even though the foundations of their bill actually came from a bipartisan gun control bill in the Senate that was drafted by a Republican.
The Democrats support a bill that would grant the Attorney General the power to prevent a person on the “no fly” list from purchasing a gun. This provision originally appeared in a bipartisan gun control bill drafted by Republican Sen. Susan Collins, which actually passed in the Senate by 52-46. But the GOP-controlled House still refuses to allow a vote.
[UPDATE: The above paragraph originally said there was no Senate vote, which was incorrect.]
Also, the bill that House Republicans support, which calls for a three-day waiting period before the AG can prevent a person on the “no fly” list from purchasing a gun, was previously introduced in the Senate by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, and it only won the support of 31 senators.
Essentially, Democrats are being prevented from holding a vote on a Republican-endorsed policy because Republicans are fearful of the political fallout from voting against an idea that sprouts from one of their own number. And House Republicans instead want to vote on a bill that Senate Republicans do not support. Yet the Democrats are supposedly bringing Congress into disrepute, and are engaging in actions that should not be “tolerated.” Seriously?
Despite conservative declarations of impending Democratic incivility, Reps. Lewis and John Larson decided to meet with Ryan this week to constructively discuss if Republicans could allow votes on the Democrats’ gun proposals. To no one’s surprise, their meeting merely continued the political impasse, and the threat of Democratic civil disobedience is still in play.
This impasse speaks to how insolvent Congress has become. Sixty years have passed since Lewis marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and staged sit-ins alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in an act of civil disobedience to prevent disenfranchisement and ensure that America worked for all Americans regardless of the color of their skin. This was the only way black Americans could make their voice heard within a society that disregarded their existence. Yet today the same protest methods are required in the highest echelons of our society to implore elected officials to vote on legislation to combat gun violence.
Following the Orlando massacre, which killed 49 people and injured 53, House Democrats decided to take drastic, dramatic measures by orchestrating their sit-in to combat Republican inaction and obstruction. Guns have already killed over 7,000 people and injured twice as many in 2016. And on average, 89 people die everyday from gun violence. Following a two-week recess Democrats have returned with continued resolve, and Republicans remain committed to preventing votes in Congress.
House Republicans unabashedly have an agenda that has nothing to do with governing, but is entirely focused around self-preservation and maintaining their control of Congress. Their agenda is to undermine the institution they claim to hold dear, so long as their actions allow them to hold onto power for a little bit longer.
We have a Republican-controlled legislature, which is incredibly unpopular with Americans, that essentially bans votes on bills supported by the Democrats, and regularly votes against their own bills. Innocent Americans, including five police officers, were killed last week from preventable gun violence. Reforms are clearly needed. Conservatives want to claim that the Democrats – led by a black civil rights leader – are destroying the fabric of our democracy by staging sit-ins and peaceful protests so that they can exercise their ability to vote. America has heard this narrative before, and advocating for disenfranchisement to sustain political power no longer resonates with our body politic. The fact that Republicans still defend this indefensible tactic shows how out of touch and destructive they have become.