Democrats plan 'day of action' to keep spotlight on guns

Democrats plan 'day of action' to keep spotlight on guns
© Moriah Ratner

The House has left Washington for its July Fourth recess, but Democrats have no intention of relenting in their push for tougher gun laws.

Energized by their recent takeover of the House floor, the Democrats are eying a series of tactics and events for members to bring to their home districts through the break, including a "national day of action" designed to remind voters that Republicans have refused to bring the issue on the floor.


In a letter sent to all Democrats on Friday, the organizers behind the sit-in urged their colleagues to "build the momentum" created by the protest, in hopes of forcing the Republicans' hands by dint of public pressure. 

"Our sit-in showed that the Republican Leadership can no longer ignore the epidemic of gun violence," the Democrats wrote. "A movement was born and will only continue to grow."

The letter was signed by Reps. John Lewis (Ga.), John Larson (Conn.), Katherine Clark (Mass.), David Cicilline (R.I.), Robin Kelly (Ill.) and Mike Thompson (Calif.). 

Their suggested day of action: June 29.

Their suggested tactic: almost anything.

"Whether it [is] a press conference, roundtable, or telephone town hall, we encourage you [to] host an event showing that Democrats in Congress will keep up the fight against gun violence," the lawmakers wrote. "Local partners including survivors, law enforcement and faith leaders can be excellent partners and can help carry our message even further."

The Democrats' lengthy and unruly sit-in, unprecedented in recent congressional history, was a direct response to the refusal of Republican leaders to consider tougher gun laws in the wake of the June 12 shooting massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people were killed and another 53 injured by a single gunman.

The Democrats are pushing two separate proposals: One to bar gun sales to those on the FBI's terrorist watchlists; and another to expand background checks on prospective buyers.

Republican leaders have rejected those proposals, arguing that they would infringe on Second Amendment rights. They're focusing their Orlando response on efforts to fight terrorism, citing the shooter's invocation of terrorist group ISIS amid the attack. 

That response has infuriated Democrats, who stormed the House floor Wednesday morning and commandeered it with speeches and chants for 25 hours. Many Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), never slept.  

The insurrection forced GOP leaders to shutter the chamber, cutting off the cameras and microphones in the process. But the Democrats quickly set up their own broadcast system, using cellphones and live video streaming service Periscope to share their message with the country and the world — an effort assisted by C-SPAN, which aired most of the protest in real time. 

Republican leaders were unswayed by the spectacle. They retook the chamber long enough to push through a military spending bill, including provisions addressing the Zika crisis, but brushed aside calls for consideration of gun legislation — and appear ready to stand firm on that position through the year. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) called the sit-in "a publicity stunt" designed to raise campaign funds for the Democrats. 

"Let me be really clear. We are not going to take away the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans," Ryan said Thursday, just before the protest ended.  

"Our focus needs to be on confronting radical extremism. Terrorism is the issue. Let me say it again. Terrorism is the issue. And defeating terrorism is our focus here in the House."

The Democrats acknowledge that their favored gun reforms are almost certainly going nowhere in the GOP-controlled Congress. But they're hoping the more aggressive tactics they've employed — and the national attention those tactics have attracted — will bring like-minded voters out to the polls on the Democrats' side in November. 

"No one, but no one, can afford to stay home on Election Day," Lewis said Thursday outside the Capitol moments after the protest ended.