Demanding Action On Gun Control, House Democrats Stage Sit-In

Jun 22, 2016
Originally published on June 22, 2016 5:06 pm

Demanding action on gun control, about 30 Democratic members of the United States House of Representatives are staging a sit-in.

"Lawmakers are grouped in the well of the chamber, in front of the speaker's dais and in chairs in the front row," NPR's Sue Davis reports. "Some members are literally sitting on the floor of the House."

When the House was gaveled back into session a little after noon, Rep. Ted Poe, a Republican from Texas who was speaker pro tempore at the time, was shouted down by members.

"No bill, no break," they chanted. The House is scheduled to break on Sunday, and Democrats are demanding a vote on two bills before they go: one that bars anyone on the no-fly list from buying a firearm and another that broadens background checks for firearm purchases.

A prayer was said and members recited the Pledge of Allegiance, but once it became clear that regular business would not take place, Poe called for another recess.

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said the House "cannot operate without members following the rules of the institution, so the House has recessed subject to the call of the chair."

Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, announced the sit-in earlier this morning.

"We have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence — tiny little children, babies, students and teachers, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, friends and neighbors — and what has this body done?" Lewis said, flanked by fellow Democrats. "Mr. Speaker, nothing. Not one thing."

Lewis and 18 of his colleagues also sent a letter to Speaker Ryan urging him to keep the House in session and schedule a vote.

"There is no doubt that our path to solutions will be arduous," the letter reads. "But we have to agree that inaction can no longer be a choice that this Congress makes."

Lewis' colleagues in the Senate held the floor for nearly 15 hours last week demanding much the same thing. Senate Democrats eventually succeeded in getting a vote, but all four gun control measures failed.

There is no official live video of the demonstration on the floor because the cameras in the House are turned off once the chamber goes into recess.

However, some representatives, including Rep. Scott Peters, of California, and Rep. Beto O'Rourke, from Texas, have been streaming the speeches from the floor. Saying they don't control the cameras in the House chamber, C-Span has been airing video from Facebook and Periscope.

NPR's Sue Davis says that filming on the floor is a violation of House rules, "but it's sort of un-enforceable unless the speaker directs the sergeant at arms to clear the floor."

Sue adds that the galleries, which were at one point closed, are now open to the public and dozens of people, including tourists and staff, are watching the sit-in.

NPR's Ailsa Chang reports that Democrats also voted to suspend the rules, but it's unclear if that vote matters considering that the House is not in session.

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