The protest comes against the backdrop of the shooting rampage that left 49 dead at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., last week. The night club massacre was both the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman and the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history. The massacre was widely denounced as an act of terrorism and a hate crime.
Witnesses said Omar Mateen the terrorist arrived at the club around 2:00am on June 12 by van and approached the building on foot, armed with a SIG Saucer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol. Mateen entered the building and started shooting the patrons and killed many civilians before he was later killed around 5:53am by police officers. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Tuesday unveiled bipartisan legislation that would prohibit gun sales to people on two terrorist watch lists, including the contentious No Fly list, among other provisions.
On Monday night, the U.S. Senate failed to pass four gun control measures, including two that would have expanded background checks and prohibited gun sales to people on the watch list.
In response to this massacre and previous terrorist attacks, congressional progressive caucus want votes on legislation expanding background checks and banning gun sales to suspected terrorists on government “no-fly” lists. Democrats are pushing for votes to expand background checks for gun purchases and to curb the sale of weapons to people on government watchlists; a proposal strongly opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other groups.
The 25 hour sit-in was initiated by Congress member John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement, taking to the center of the House floor after a morning of lawmaker speeches. He said “For months, even for years, through several sessions of Congress, I wondered what would bring this body to take action. What would finally make Congress do what is right, what is just, what the people of this country have been demanding and what is long overdue? 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? Mr. Speaker, nothing. Not one thing. We have turned a deaf ears-we have turned deaf ears to the blood of the innocent and the concern of our nation. We are blind to a crisis. Mr. Speaker, where is the heart of this body? Where is our soul? Where is our moral leadership? Where is our courage?”
Rep. Ted Deutch said “My friends, my colleagues, that I have shared this experience with, I join you in standing not to help fill those holes-we can’t do it but just to provide just a little bit of comfort, a little bit of comfort to those families and those communities that ache. That’s why we’re doing this. That’s why we’re going to prevail. And that’s why I’m so proud to have been part of this with all of you. Thank you”
Rep John Lewis continued and said “Those who work on bipartisan solution are pushed aside. Those who pursue common sense improvement are beaten down. Reason is criticized. Obstruction is praised. Newtown, Aurora, Charleston, Orlando-what is the tipping point? Are we blind? Can we see? How many more mothers, how many more fathers need to shed tears of grief before we do something? We were elected to lead, Mr. Speaker. We must be headlights and not taillights. We cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the reality of mass gun violence in our nation. Deadly mass shootings are becoming more and more frequent. Mr. Speaker, this is the fight. It is not an opinion. We must remove the blinders. The time for silence and patience is long gone. We’re calling on the leadership of the House to bring common sense gun control legislation to the House floor. Give us a vote! Let us vote! We came here to do our job!” Others joined him on the floor – some sitting, some standing. Some prayed and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.