By Andrea Haverdink
I remember very clearly when Newtown happened. I was a senior in high school, and in all of my eighteen years I had never felt so angry. Everywhere I turned I saw people clinging to their guns, as if the government’s “huge conspiracy” to take away your rifle, a belief not even remotely grounded in reality, was the worst thing that had happened that day. I remember crying for hours in the days following the shooting, wondering how the world could keep turning, wondering how people could just accept that these things happen, and, above all, wondering how anyone could prioritize an individual right to own an AR-15 over the lives of schoolchildren.
Since then, there have been over thirty mass shootings in America. Gun reform being a passion of my father’s, he would send me text messages day after day with articles reporting yet another shooting. And nothing changed. I watched President Obama give far too many speeches showing solidarity with the victims and begging for action, and still nothing ever changed. These shootings would happen, liberals would again ask for gun control to be considered, conservatives would release their arsenal of NRA-based arguments, and within a few days the issue was no longer on the table. Wash, rinse, repeat. I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
As mass shootings have become more and more common, there has only been more and more apathy. But our collective numbness was shattered one Sunday morning in Orlando, as the nation grieved for the 102 victims of gunman Omar Mateen, and cried out for measures to prevent these killings. This time around, it doesn’t seem as if progressives and elected Democrats are willing to take no for an answer.
On Wednesday, June 22, House Democrats finally gave us the action we’ve been waiting for.
Led by Representative John Lewis, hallowed veteran of the civil rights movement, Democrats in the House took over the floor, demanding that a vote on gun legislation be heard. By the end of the sit-in, which lasted well into the following day, 170 legislators from both the House and Senate participated.
Republicans attempted to quash the protest, by adjourning the day’s legislative session, which cuts off not only the debate, but also C-SPAN cameras and floor microphones. This did not deter Democrats, who resumed broadcasting from live-streaming apps on their cell phones. Gun reform supporters descended on the Capitol to show their support, just outside of the House. Speaker Ryan repeatedly called the move a “political stunt,” and other Republicans found it to be an affront to the People’s House. In reality, the Democrats sitting in the chamber were representing nearly 85-90% of American citizens that favor common sense gun reform.
That’s a shockingly high consensus, especially in our polarized times. The numbers are so high because the gun reforms being proposed truly are common sense. Republicans that lambasted the sit-in would have you believe that Democrats were asking for serious changes to the Second Amendment, that Democrats were jumping to extreme conclusions in the wake of a tragedy. In fact, Lewis and his colleagues were asking for the barest minimum of gun law reform. The two votes in question include provisions that would be feasibly broadly supported by a large majority of Congress if not for the NRA’s outsized influence.
The first vote would have stopped people on the no-fly list from purchasing guns. The logic here is that if you are too dangerous to get on a plane, you are too dangerous to own a weapon.
The second vote would have put in place universal background checks, allowing the government to evaluate your criminal and mental health history before purchasing a gun.
Neither of these votes were taken up by House Republican leadership. In the wake of the largest mass shooting in American history, Republicans should have set partisanship aside and moved this legislation to the top of the docket, simply because of the overwhelming support from a majority of American citizens. It is the least we can do that will have some impact on gun violence, and at this point, any impact, however small, is preferable to nothing.
We asked several Republicans on their way out of the Capitol whether or not they believe suspected terrorists should be able to buy guns. A simple question, right? Apparently not.
Activists and protestors outside the Capitol shouted over and over again for Paul Ryan to call his boss, NRA President Wayne LaPierre, and ask for his approval to hold a vote. Unshockingly, Ryan adjourned for a weeklong recess without holding it. Democrats are vowing to keep up the pressure when legislative session resumes next week, and Ryan announced yesterday that the House will hold a vote on gun measures. Whether or not new laws come of it is anyone’s guess, but soon we will find out if this truly is Groundhog Day.