Democratic lawmakers initiated a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday to demand a vote on gun-control measures. As of 2:00 p.m. Eastern Wednesday, the occupation was still taking place.
The effort has been led by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a storied civil rights leader who organized sit-ins to protest Nashville’s segregated lunch counters in 1960. In a speech on the House floor Wednesday morning, Lewis said, “For months, even for years, through seven sessions of Congress, I wondered, ‘What would bring this body to take action?’ We have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence. Tiny little children. Babies. Students and teachers. Mother and fathers. Sisters and brothers. Daughters and sons. Friends and neighbors. What has this body done? Mr. Speaker, not one thing.
“We have to occupy the floor of the House until there is action,” he finished, before sitting down on the brocade carpet.
Connecticut Democrat John Larson took the microphone next. “Rise up, Democrats. Rise up, Americans. This cannot stand. We will occupy this floor. We will no longer be denied a right to vote,” he said.
Larson had barely finished speaking when House Speaker Pro Tempore Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, hastily declared a recess, and the C-SPAN cameras were shut off. Republicans later tried and failed to regain control of the floor before they were forced to call a second recess.
Addressing a bank of television cameras on the Capitol steps, Nancy Pelosi, who met with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton earlier Wednesday morning, applauded her fellow Democrats for taking a stand against gun violence. “Our members are gathered on the floor in protest,” Pelosi told reporters. “We can’t even have a vote. We believe it would pass.”
House Democrats are calling on Speaker Paul Ryan to call a vote on a “no buy, no fly” bill that would prohibit suspected terrorists on the federal government’s no-fly list from buying a weapon.
Democrats in the Senate, where two separate measures that would have imposed new regulations on gun sales to suspected terrorists failed earlier this week, have responded to Republican obstructionism on this particular issue by saying Republicans have “decided to sell weapons to ISIS.”
By early afternoon, Democratic senators, including Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Al Franken (D-MN) joined the representatives on the House floor. There are reportedly dozens of Congress members participating in the occupation.
One lawmaker hinted earlier this week that plans to disrupt House proceedings were in the works. “Watch the floor carefully this week,” the anonymous lawmaker told the Huffington Post. (The House is scheduled to take a weeklong recess starting later this week.)
Democratic members of Congress plan to keep the pressure on Republican legislators with more actions planned in their individual districts during the next week’s recess.