Politics

Gun Control Advocates Arrested in Rotunda

8 families and friends of gun violence victims host sit-in

A coalition of families and friends of gun violence victims hold a sit-in in the Capitol Rotunda. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Eight protesters who lost families and friends to gun violence staged a short sit-in in the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday before Capitol Police led them away in handcuffs.  

At about 12:15 p.m., the group sat down in the center of the Rotunda and began chanting, "No Bill, No Break," the slogan used by House Democrats when they occupied the chamber floor in late June to demand action on gun violence.  

Some of the protesters held photographs of loved ones, and signs with such slogans as "My daughter is not a political stunt."  

[ Gun Control Activists Gather Outside Capitol to Support Sit-In ]  

About five minutes into the protest, Capitol Police stepped in to clear the area. Within 10 minutes, they handcuffed the protesters and arrested six of the eight participants, a Capitol Police spokeswoman said. They were charged with demonstrating in an area where it is unlawful to do so.

The sit-in was organized to protest a gun measure that Republican leaders have included in a broader counterterrorism bill. Rather than ban the sale of firearms to suspected terrorists, the bill would provide a three-day waiting period in which the federal government would have to go to court to prove that the person should not buy a gun.  

The provision, endorsed by the National Rifle Association, is not considered strong enough by gun control advocates.  

According to the protesters who were not arrested, no single gun control group organized Tuesday's sit-in. A few of the participants are affiliated with different organizations, such as the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, but they all knew each other from advocacy work in the past.  

"We saw the support of the filibuster, which took place, and then the Democrats that sat in before taking a break," said Eddie Weingart, 37, of D.C., referring to Connecticut Sen. Christopher S. Murphy's marathon Senate floor speech last month calling for a gun control vote. "We gave them our full support and we finally realized that we need to start doing the same thing."  

[ GOP Investigating Violation of House Rules During 'Sit-In' ]  

Weingart was two years old when his mother was shot and killed in front of him during a domestic dispute. Weingart's stepfather tried to shoot and kill him too, but the gun malfunctioned.  

Like Weingart, the other protesters were all friends or family members of victims of gun violence. They included Pat Maisch, who was at the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011 where she helped disarm the gunman who killed six people and injured former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.  

Maisch was arrested Tuesday along with Camiella Williams of Chicago who said she has lost 24 loved ones to gun violence; Christian Heyne, whose mother was killed in 2005 in California; Margaret Eaddy, whose son was shot and killed in 2014; and Jeanette Richardson, whose son was shot and killed on New Year's Eve 2004.  

As the protest began, they each took turns saying, "My daughter [or my son] is not a political stunt."  

One protester, Bob Weiss, had tears in his eyes and could only get out the words, "My daugher," while holding a picture of a young woman. Weiss' 19-year-old daughter Veronika was shot and killed in the 2014 Isla Vista shooting.  

[ Key Moments in the House Sit-In on Guns ]  

"I came here today and I'm going to keep coming as long as I can to let the speaker, Paul Ryan, understand that red blood, human bones and flesh should mean more than green paper," said Nardyne Jeffries, 46, of D.C., referring to funds Republicans receive from the NRA. "We have the right to live safely in America"  

Jeffries' daughter Brishell was shot and killed at the age of 16 in Southeast D.C. on March 30, 2010. Three others were killed and several more wounded in one of the worst mass shootings in the District.  

"The children were black and they were in southeast Washington, D.C., and this is what happens every day in cities like this and Chicago," Jeffries said. "Chicago had 64 shootings last night but nobody's interested."  

Jeffries said she wants Congress to pass more stringent gun control laws, including expanding background checks for gun purchases. Both she and Weingart were still hopeful that Congress would act to combat gun violence.  

"Do I think it's going to happen tomorrow or do I think it's going to happen this year? No. And maybe not even next year," said Weingart. "However my optimism is strong."  

"I've gone through a life of utter heartbreak … I have to be optimistic," he said. "I have to believe somehow, some way, this will change."  

Contact Bowman at bridgetbowman@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter @bridgetbhc .

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