Democratic sit-in protest on gun controls spills into second day
Chaos in the US House of Representatives as Republicans attempt to take back control
Video grab shows a sit-in at the US House of Representatives on June 22nd, 2016 in Washington, DC. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
A Democratic sit-in on the floor of the US House of Representatives to force a vote on gun controls spilled into a second day in the face of Republican efforts to end the protest and take back control of the chamber.
Angry at the lack of action in the aftermath of the Orlando mass shooting, Democrats brought congressional business to a standstill and sparked a late-night showdown with Republicans last night in an attempt to schedule votes to prevent terror suspects from buying guns and expand background checks on purchases.
The protest began shortly before noon yesterday when dozens of Democrats, led by Representatives John Lewis of Georgia, a hero of the 1960s civil rights movement, and Katherine Clark of Massachusetts staged the sit-in on the floor of the change demanding the Republican leadership allow votes on gun legislation.
The demonstration came 10 days after a gunman killed 49 people and injured 53 in a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando in the worst mass shooting in modern US history. Four gun control measures proposed in the Republican-led Senate on Monday failed to reach sufficient support to be put to a vote.
Democrats turned to social media such as Periscope and Facebook to broadcast a live feed of their sit-in after the Republican leadership, incensed by the protest, turned off the House cameras by calling the chamber into recess.
In some of the most disorderly scenes witnessed in Congress in recent memory, Democrats last night shouted down Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has dismissed the protest as a “publicity stunt,” after he called a vote on a measure unrelated to gun controls at 10pm - almost 11 hours after the protest began.
‘No bill, no break’
Mr Ryan told CNN yesterday afternoon that Republicans, who control the House, had no intention of passing measures that would erode gun ownership rights protected under the second amendment of the US constitution.
Democrats shouted “Shame! Shame!” and chanted “No bill, no break!” holding up pieces of paper with the names of victims of gun violence last night.
The Speaker ignored the protests and continued with a roll call of votes and House members voted on the unconnected congressional business.
The protesters sang variations of the 1960s civil rights anthem, We Shall Overcome, as Mr Ryan attempted to take back control with the vote.
Legislators brought pillows and blankets to the House determined to continue their protest as the sit-in stretched well past midnight (US time) last night.
In chaotic scenes, the Republican leadership attempted to take back control of the House again with another vote shortly before 1am amid shouts from Democratic protestors as they held up photographs of the victims of gun violence.
An impromptu demonstration began outside the House on the grounds of the Capitol as supporters were addressed by the Democratic members of Congress making short speeches and calling for public support for their efforts.
Democrat minority leader Nancy Pelosi told the crowd that any attempt by Republicans to hold a series of further votes and then adjourn and “leave town,” disrupting the Democratic protest, would be “an act of cowardice”.
Mr Lewis’s involvement in the protests evoked memories of his role in the famous sit-ins of more than a half-century ago during the civil rights movement.
“We have been too quiet for too long,” he said, kicking off yesterday’s protest.
“There comes a time when you have to say something. You have to make a little noise. You have to move your feet. This is the time.”
Last night, asked about the protest, Mr Lewis said: “I felt like I was reliving my life,” and described the public wave of support for his protest as “gratifying”.
The Georgia congressman and other Democrats refused to be drawn on a time limit in their fight to bring gun measures to a vote by the House.
“We’re going to stay here as long as it takes,” Seth Moulton, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, told television channel MSNBC last night.