After a series of proposed gun control measures failed to pass in the US Senate on Monday, Democrats from the the House of Representative are now taking matters into their own hands.
Led by Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a longtime civil rights advocate who led sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville during the 1960s, more than 30 representatives are conducting a sit-in on the House floor demanding action on gun control legislation.
Previously, Representative Lewis had penned a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan urging him to forego a scheduled House recess and instead use that time to debate and vote on gun control legislation, CNN reports. His request was denied, and during the recess on Wednesday, dozens of representatives sat on the House floor while names of men, women, and children who have died as a result of gun violence in the US were read aloud.
The Representatives are demanding a scheduled vote on two gun control bills: Bill H.R.5544, which would prevent people listed in the Terrorist Screening Database to buy guns, Bill H.R.224, which would require federal research on the effects of gun violence on public health.
This isn't the first time Congress lawmakers have staged a sit-in. In 1995, House Democrats refused to leave Congress until Republicans agreed to end a partial government shutdown that was affecting 800,000 federal workers. In 2008, around 20 House Republicans similarly protested to push a vote on oil drilling.
The sit-in has attracted criticism from those who say that if legislation were voted on today, the outcome would likely be a failure. Nevertheless, the Democrats say they will be on the floor, as Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty says, "as long as it takes."
Broadly has reached out to the female representatives participating in the sit-in to hear their motivations for seizing the House. Their responses are below.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, 5th District of Connecticut: "Since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, more than 100,000 Americans have been lost to gun violence. And in that time the House has done nothing. We cannot continue to watch in silence as Americans lose their lives to senseless violence—not when we have the power to act."
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, 12th District of New Jersey: "It is disgusting, it is despicable, and it is dumbfounding that after the daily violence that takes hundreds of American lives each year—after Orlando, after San Bernardino, after every instance of gun violence—we offer only silence. Republicans may have turned off the cameras to keep us from taking our case to the American people, but I will remain on the floor with my colleagues until they let us use the votes our constituents sent us here to cast. There are bipartisan bills ready to go. We're asking for Republican leadership to do their job: Schedule a vote."
Rep. Janice Hahn, 44th District of California: "The American people are sick of silence. They are demanding that Congress take action and protect their families. This nation has just witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in history and more people are dying every day. If we do not take action now, when will we? Inaction is tantamount to being complicit in the next attack. I cannot stand for that. I am proud to join my colleague, Congressman John Lewis, in this sit-in. We will not yield the floor until we get a vote."
Hahn's communications director, Elizabeth Odendahl added, "We are pumped!"
It is disgusting, it is despicable, and it is dumbfounding that after the daily violence that takes hundreds of American lives each year we offer only silence.
Rep. Joyce Beatty, 3rd District of Ohio: "What we are doing here on the House Floor is historic. We are demanding House Republicans listen to what the vast majority of their constituents and Americans across the country are clamoring for: meaningful action to curb our country's gun violence epidemic. How many more families need to be torn apart in Ohio and the nation for Republicans to finally listen? As Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, 'We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.' It is time we heed those words."
Rep. Chellie Pingree, 1st District of Maine: "Right now someone can be on both the Terrorist Watch List and the No Fly List—in other words, the FBI thinks you are a terrorist and the TSA bans you from flying—but if you want to drive down to your local gun store and buy an assault rifle, there is nothing anyone can do to stop you. This is wrong. The American people know it is wrong, public health professionals know it is wrong, and nearly every single law enforcement association in America knows it's wrong—which is why they are all in favor of closing the terrorist gun loophole."
Rep. Katherine Clark, 5th District of Massachusetts: "No more silence. I urge the Speaker before he sends members home for the Fourth of July, have us vote on these two practical proposals. There is no holiday from gun violence for ordinary Americans. Our communities and our democracy deserve a vote so our children can dance again in freedom and safety."
Rep. Donna Edwards, 4th District of North Carolina: "It is far past time to listen to the American public instead of the NRA & vote on universal background checks. Congress must not leave Washington without voting on common sense gun violence prevention legislation to keep the American people safe: No Bill, No Break."
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