What's next for the House sit-in on gun control?
On June 23, Democrats from the House of Representatives decided to suspend order and sit
on the floor of the chamber. Their mantra “no bill, no break!” signified that these members would not
allow the day’s session to end or allow the House to go on recess until Speaker Paul Ryan agreed to hear
measures limiting ownership of guns in the US. Many Americans supported these members, saying that
they were trying to affect real change in a policy world that is filled with far removed politicians.
But what many saw as devotion to a universally emotional issue was more of a publicity stunt than
anything else. After horrendous attacks recently in Florida and other cities, Americans called more
loudly than ever for heightened restrictions on gun sales and types of guns sold to civilians. Momentum
and tensions were high leading into House discussions of similar measures to Senate bills proposing
different way to control how guns are sold in the United States. Democratic members of the House
staged a “sit-in” to attempt to force legislation on gun control.
Days earlier, the Senate failed to progress a bipartisan gun control bill that blocked sale of guns to
individuals on the no-fly list, including terror suspects and those who have names similar to terror
suspects. The legislation never failed an official chamber vote, because it did not even get enough votes
to reach the floor for debate. Similarly, the House has a majority of Republicans who do not support
many gun control measures, and these types of bills would not easily pass before the scheduled recess
period for the July 4th holiday.
Stemming from the recent attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the pressure was on lawmakers to
pass gun control measures. Both the value and vice of our Congress is that to pass any legislation takes
extended time and compromise. Between the Orlando shooting and July 4th recess, there was no time
for debate and compromise over a highly visible and controversial issue in American society.
Democrats in the House exacerbated tensions over Speaker Ryan’s actions to shut off live filming of the
sit-in and to continue with scheduled holiday recess. In truth, it is appalling that our political system
halts for federal holidays even when tragedies are occurring around us. However, the actions of House
Democrats both violated floor order laws and represented a political stunt in order to appear active on
such issues when in fact, no legislation or action was in sight. No productive conversation or work was
occurring on the floor of the House; nothing would be accomplished in this session.
All members of Congress knew that a break from their Congressional duties was in sight. Whether they
appeared to support going on this recess or not, every member – Republican or Democrat – left for the
week before the holiday weekend. Every member enjoyed their time off, and since returning to work,
there have been no signs of gun policy legislation on either side of the aisle. These behaviors imply that
members who participated in the sit-in wanted something on their resume to appease voters, but were
not truly dedicated to the gun control cause. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) remarked early on in the protest,
that participating members “will be here as long as it takes, every day”. All members of the House,
including Democrats, began their holiday recess the next day immediately following the “sit-in” stunt.
The current contentious election cycle further magnifies these issues, and further supports this theory.
As Nov. 8 approaches, the House will be in recess through the month of August, as well as the
entire month of October until the week after the elections. With this in mind, the actual amount of time
for any significant legislative activity is very limited, and no individuals or groups within the House have
made any implication that there will be any gun control legislation in the coming months. Considering
how pressing it was on July 23, I believe the American people thought that House Democrats were
serious. Based on these events, it proves unlikely that the sit-in was anything other than a publicity stunt
for voters and against House Republicans.
In reality, Speaker Ryan could have had participating members removed from the House floor by the
sergeant-at-arms for violating rules of the Chamber. He did not. He did stop the live feed of the House
floor after the rules of order had been violated. A spokeswoman for the Speaker noted, “The House
cannot operate without members following the rules of the institution,” and thus the footage was cut
off. The Rules of the House of Representatives of the 114th Congress states that “the Speaker shall
preserve order and decorum, and in case of disturbance or disorderly conduct…may cause the same to
be cleared”. Based on these rules accepted by all members of the House, Ryan had complete authority
to end livestream footage and even potential clearing of the chamber, despite only acting on the former.
Based on the actions of House Democrats on gun control, we can only assume that such members do
not have any real conviction to pass such legislation, but simply wanted to appear to voters as if they do.
With a looming holiday recess and still very limited time to pass gun control measures, House
Democrats in their disorderly conduct did nothing but poise bad publicity on Ryan and Republicans, and
string the American people along with them.