Heard on the Hill

Democrats Launch Another Protest Over Guns on House Floor

Members buck protocol again, while Ryan says Democrats are eroding decorum

Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts led the speaking part of the latest Democratic demonstration against guns on the House floor. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats launched another protest on the House floor Thursday over  inaction on gun control , this time calling attention to specific gun violence victims.   

A few dozen members spent part of morning hour and a short recess period that followed reading names of gun violence victims, holding their pictures.  

Then, after the House came back into session for legislative business and began debate on a conference committee report to a defense authorization bill, the Democrats used their debate time to make repeated requests for a vote on a bill to expand background checks for gun sales.   

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., led the morning protest, reading from a list that included the names and ages of gun violence victims while Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer handed Democratic members a page with each victim’s name and photograph to hold up.  

“Mr. Speaker, we have many more to read. We have far more to read. We are far from complete. And we are just talking about 2016. We will continue,” Moulton said before the brief recess.  

Their protest continued after the gavel came down. Holding the floor when the House is not in session is another break from protocol that Republican leaders have decried as a setting a bad precedent.   

Democrats held a marathon sit-in on June 22 to protest inaction on gun control following the Orlando shootings. On June 28 , another protest occurred on the floor.  

After reading the list of names, Moulton walked away from the podium and shook hands with his colleagues. The group then huddled and remained on the floor.  

When the House returned to session at noon, the chamber moved into debate on legislation on the day's calendar. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., yielded debate time to his colleagues so they could make requests to bring up the background check bill.   

Dozens of Democrats lined up behind the podium with their pictures of the gun violence victims. As each member approached, they repeated the same language in their requests, characterizing the bill as “the bipartisan expanded background check legislation.”  

They each said they were making the request to honor the memory of the person who’s picture they were holding, naming the individual and then referring to them as “a victim of gun violence who never received a moment of silence on the House floor.”  

Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina, however, altered his request and asked for a vote legislation to require fully completed background checks before someone buying a gun can take possession of it.  

His request stems from the fatal shooting of nine people at a Charleston church in 2015. The gun used was obtained before a background check uncovered issues that would have prevented its sale to suspect Dylann Roof.  

But the Republican chairing the session said the requests to take up the gun measure could not be entertained because the House was considering the defense measure.  

Rep. Mike Thompson of California, chairman of the group that came up with the idea for Thursday's protest — the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force — said Democrats have been trying for 3 1/2 years to get a vote on bipartisan legislation that ensured the Second Amendment right to bear arms.  

“In those three and a half years, 34,000 people have been killed in this country by someone using a gun,” he said.  

As Thompson concluded his speech, the Democrats still standing behind him shouted, "Give us a vote."  

The House then resumed debate on the defense bill and continued on with its normal business. The Democrats participating in the demonstration left the floor shortly after.   

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats will not go away.  

"We will persist until we get bills passed, until we protect the American people,” she said.    

So What’s Going on in Congress With Gun Control? (Video)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan said that he was concerned about the precedent Democrats are setting with their series of demonstrations over gun control. “If we break the rules, how can we have civilized democracy?” he asked. The House floor is the main place where Democrats and Republicans spend the most time together, Ryan said, calling it the place where they "actually get to know each other, to strike up conversations, to strike up friendships, to negotiate, to compromise, to talk and discuss."  

Democrats are ruining that, Ryan suggested. "If we turn the floor of the House of Representatives into a partisan war zone complete with tweeting, periscoping and electronic devices, then we have eviscerated any vestige of bipartisanship.”  

Republican leaders are weighing whether the previous protests, which began with the nearly 26-hour sit-in on June 22, merited any consequences for those who participated.  

“Every option is on the table," Ryan said, noting that Republican leaders had met with the sergeant at arms and the parliamentarian who have reviewed the June 22 action.  

After meeting with those "objective authorities" Wednesday, the sergeant at arms gave GOP leaders a list of recommendations, Ryan said, noting, "We have the Rules Committee looking at it."  

Pelosi didn't seem worried when asked about Republicans saying Democrats may face repercussions for the sit-in. "Make my day," she said.   

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.