Historic sit-in on floor of U.S. Congress calls for gun control

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $1 per month!

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

The gun control debate took a historic turn Wednesday, as Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives staged the first sit-in in Congress history, taking the floor of the House and demanding a vote on what is called the "no fly, no buy" restriction on gun purchases. This narrow provision would deny people on the federal "no-fly list" the ability to legally buy a gun. The protest was launched by Atlanta's congressional representative John Lewis, the legendary civil-rights activist. "Sometimes you have to do something out of the ordinary. Sometimes you have to make a way out of no way," Lewis said from the well of the House. "There comes a time when you have to say something, when you have to make a little noise. This is the time. Now is the time to get in the way." He left the podium and, joined by many other members of Congress, gave new meaning to "speaking from the House floor" by sitting down in front of the podium and refusing to get up.

Both chambers of Congress have television cameras that feed the speeches from the floor directly to the national cable channel, C-SPAN. But the cameras are controlled by Republicans, and were turned off. At least two House members who participated in the sit-in provided live video streams of the protest speeches, using phones and social-media streaming video applications. C-SPAN, in its own form of protest, then picked up and broadcast these live streams, making the Republican-censored demand for gun control available to the TV-viewing public. "House cameras not permitted to show sit-in," C-SPAN noted at the bottom of the screen.

"No bill, no break! No bill, no break," the gathered Congress members chanted between speakers, raucously breaking with traditional congressional decorum. One after another, members of Congress -- all Democrats -- rose to speak in support of a simple vote on the "no fly, no buy" provision, which Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., proposed as an amendment to a Homeland Security appropriation bill earlier Wednesday. Like its counterpart in the Senate, proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Lowey's amendment was voted down by every member of the committee's Republican majority. According to Lowey, the amendment would have given "the attorney general the authority to block the sale of firearms to known or suspected terrorists, if the attorney general has a reasonable belief that the firearm would be used in connection with terrorism."

The Republican majorities in both the U.S House and Senate consistently parrot the National Rifle Association's talking points. Paramount among the criticisms from the NRA is that innocent people might well be put on the terrorist watch list. "Protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watch list to be removed," stated Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. It is certainly admirable to raise the issue of these flawed "terror watch lists" and how people can get off them. But many Republicans are only raising the issue now for the first time, suggesting that all they care about is that the lists limit the number of people who can buy weapons.

Nita Lowey's amendment, which includes a look back at people who were on the terrorist watch list at any time in the previous five years, would have flagged the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen. A U.S. citizen, he had been investigated by the FBI twice in recent years for suspected terrorist sympathies, but had been cleared both times. He also was known to have beaten his first wife, who left him after just four months of marriage. Domestic violence is another important indicator in mass shootings. Despite these warning signs, Mateen legally bought the AR-style semi-automatic rifle he used to kill 49 people and injure more, just days before the killing.

"We cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the reality of mass gun violence in our nation. Deadly mass shootings are becoming more and more frequent," John Lewis said just before the sit-in began. "The time for silence and patience is long gone. We are calling on the leadership of the House to bring common-sense gun-control legislation to the House floor. Give us a vote. Let us vote. We came here to do our jobs. We came here to work. The American people are demanding action."

This historic protest was demanding what can only be called a meager measure, delaying suspected terrorists from buying guns. What about restoring the assault-weapons ban? These weapons, designed solely for the purpose of killing people, have been shown time and again to enable mass killings, from Columbine to Newtown to Aurora to San Bernardino to Orlando. John Lewis marched, sat down and was beaten in pursuit of fundamental change, in pursuit of civil rights. Perhaps this historic sit-in on the floor of Congress will spark true, meaningful, lasting gun control.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the newly published New York Times bestseller Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America. They are currently on a 100-city U.S. tour.

Photo: Mith Huang/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.