Sit-in ends, but gun fight to continue

June 24, 2016 GMT


House Democrats ended their sit-in after 25 1/2 hours but pledged to continue for as long as it takes to get votes on expanded gun-purchase background checks and denying guns to those on the government’s terrorism watch list.

Democrats led by civil-rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., had promised to hold the House floor until House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., scheduled the votes, which Ryan refused to do.

After late-night shouting matches between chanting and singing Democrats and angry Republicans, Ryan gaveled through two items of business and adjourned the House until July 5.

Democrats including Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, pledged this was the beginning, not the end, and they would be back.

“I look forward to continuing this fight and crossing the next bridge on the way to fulfilling our responsibility to keep Americans safe,” Tonko said.

On yet another tumultuous day of sharp debate on the gun issue, the Senate on Thursday turned back Republican efforts to kill a bipartisan compromise by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, which would deny guns to anyone on two narrower lists aimed at the worst-of-the-worst, but also would set up court procedures for winning back gun-purchase rights within 14 days.

The 52-46 vote to preserve the Collins measure was procedural. Although it won the votes of eight Republicans, including Collins, it fell eight short of the 60 needed to ultimately win final approval.

Nevertheless, Senate Democrats said they felt like progress had been made.

“Now that Senate Republicans’ attempt to bury this amendment has failed, Senate Democrats call on our Republican colleagues to give this proposal a real vote and a chance to become law next week,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Both Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand voted against killing — tabling, technically — the Collins proposal.

The all-night sit-in on the House side unfolded amid dimmed lights and no live coverage by C-SPAN. House TV cameras were shut off by the Republican leadership, leaving C-SPAN to rely on grainy video feeds from House Democrats via Periscope.

Upon emerging into the hazy sunshine outside the Capitol, Democrats led by Lewis and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sang the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”

Ryan made clear to reporters he had no intention of budging.

“We are not going to allow stunts like this to stop us from carrying out the people’s business,” he said. “If this is not a political stunt, then why are they trying to raise money off this?”

Later he said: “I don’t think this should be a very proud moment for democracy or the people who staged these stunts.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, made clear that while she too wants solutions to gun violence, she had little sympathy for the sit-in.

“I am a legislator, not a protester,” Stefanik said. “As a strong Second-Amendment advocate, I believe there are legislative solutions we can agree on that protect civil liberties and constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans, and keep guns out of the hands of terrorists.”

Democrats were unbowed, arguing that with Ryan and Republican leaders consistently refusing to hold votes they had little choice but to resort to unorthodox tactics.

“We are not asking for anything outrageous,” said Tonko. In fact, we are working to enact policies that more than 80 percent of Democrats, Republicans and independents across Americans are demanding: Universal background checks and closing the terrorist gun loophole while ensuring due process and the protection of civil liberties.”