When Rep. Robin Kelly rose to speak on the House floor Thursday morning, she carried a list of 50 names — all victims of gun violence.
“I’ve begged — I’ve pleaded — I’ve screamed — I’ve cried and I even ground the people’s House to a halt with last year’s historic sit-in,” the Illinois Democrat said.
She then proceeded to read the names.
As she told each person’s story, she placed a dollar in a box next to her.
“One dollar — one name,” Kelly said. “One dollar — one grieving family. One dollar — one lost American.”
Kelly plans to tell the stories on the House floor of 5,950 Americans killed by guns. The reason for that number? It’s the dollar amount the National Rifle Association donated to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan in 2016.
Kelly told Roll Call on Wednesday that Republican House leadership continually thwarts legislative efforts on gun violence by refusing to hold votes on those bills. She pointed to pressure from the NRA as the reason Ryan won’t act.
Addressing Ryan in her speech, Kelly said, “Money matters more to you than these American lives.”
The victims the congresswoman spoke about Thursday were from all across the nation: from both Kelly and Ryan’s districts, as well as victims of several mass shootings.
“I don’t want the gun violence prevention issue to get lost because there are people dying everyday,” Kelly said. “Whether it’s by themselves in more urban areas or in mass shootings, I just want the issue to still be prominent.”
The Illinois lawmaker is no stranger to the issue of gun violence. Her district includes parts of Chicago, which saw a surge in homicides in 2016 and during the beginning of this year.
President Donald Trump has suggested sending federal authorities to Chicago in response to the uptick in shootings. He talked repeatedly about the city throughout the 2016 campaign. After his election, Trump described Chicago as a “war zone” but said the problem is “very easily fixable.”
Trump isn’t the only Republican to criticize the Windy City. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also denounced gun violence in cities during last year’s presidential campaign, saying, “Where they have the toughest gun laws, they have the highest violent crime rates.”
When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed stronger gun control measures in April, the NRA pushed back.
“A better emphasis would be to focus on aggressively prosecuting those who buy firearms for dangerous criminals” rather than restricting “the rights of law-abiding gun owners,” the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement.
Kelly said it is “easy to call somebody out, but what are you going to do?” She said she wanted Trump to visit Chicago to “meet the people in the trenches trying to do something about it.”
For her part, Kelly has introduced several bills dealing with gun violence as well as legislation to create opportunities for at-risk youth. The congresswoman partnered with her state’s senior senator, Democrat Richard J. Durbin, earlier this year to introduce two bills that would address youth unemployment in high poverty areas. She said such legislation helps prevent violence.
Moving forward, Kelly would like to see a vote on legislation expanding background checks. She pointed to a 2015 House bill sponsored by Republican Peter T. King of New York and Democrat Mike Thompson of California as an example of bipartisan legislation that should have received a vote.
The King-Thompson legislation would have required background checks on all commercial gun sales, such as those made at gun shows, over the internet or through classified ads. It also would have prohibited the government from creating a federal gun registry.
Kelly said she will continue her efforts until gun control legislation is brought to a vote.
“At least one bill,” she said. “Let’s get this started.”