Politics

To Many Liberals, This Gun Vote Isn't Worth a Sit-In

Even those who favor gun control think it's a bad hill to die on

Connecticut Rep. Elizabeth Esty addresses protesters early Thursday morning on the East Front of the Capitol who gathered to show solidarity with the House Democrats' sit-in. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats rallied attention to efforts to pass gun control legislation after the Orlando shooting by plopping down on the floor of the House chamber Wednesday and staying put. Some remained at the "non-filibuster" all night and into Thursday morning , giving speeches on mass shootings and the need for a vote.  

The Democrats' "No Fly, No Buy" amendment would allow the federal government to block a gun sale if the buyer's name appears on a terrorist watch list.  

[ Who's on What Watch List? ]  

But some  ardent gun control supporters say that the amendment is very weak and likely to make little to no impact if enacted. Others call it a violation of due process and likely to unfairly target Muslims. Georgia Rep. John Lewis, the venerable civil rights leader who led the sit-in, complained that he was stuck on the no-fly list in 2004, as was former Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.  

The hashtag #DemsNeverSat was tweeted to express surprise that Democrats would use their most theatrical tactics on such a flawed effort that is so unlikely to succeed, rather than on more consequential measures.

Critics note that the number of attempted gun sales to known or suspected terrorists is low : 244 in 2015, compared with 23 million background checks processed that year. Meaning very few gun sales would be prevented.  

The FBI is already notified when people on the watch list are buying guns as part of the background check process. On top of that, terrorists would still have the option of purchasing guns without any kind of background check by going to a gun show. Republicans and some Democrats are sufficiently opposed to closing this "gun show loophole" that the possibility isn't on the table in the House's post-Orlando gun control debate.

The American Civil Liberties Union, typically friendly to gun control legislation, sent a letter to the Senate on Monday opposing the use of terror watch lists to restrict gun sales, calling them "error-prone" and "unfair," and criticizing watch list expansion to "include even people long ago cleared of any wrongdoing by law enforcement."  

A lawyer for the Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote on Facebook about her experiences  working for American Muslims who she said were unfairly placed on the no-fly list. She described the Democrats' gun control proposal as "nuanced, subtle #Islamophobia from Democratic legislators."

In the end, Democrats did not get the vote they wanted, but vowed to continue the fight for gun control.  

"The American people need us to take their pain and turn it into a passion," said Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, early Thursday morning.  

"We're not satisfied to have a moment of silence," he said. "That's not enough. What you are asking us to do is to stop the violence, to do something about this gun violence." 

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