Political Revolution Takes The Floor

Concern over gun violence engages us all.

Concern over gun violence engages us all.


As I write this, Democrats in the House of Representatives, led by civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, are singing “Amazing Grace” and “We Shall Overcome.” In the latter, the words were changed to “we shall pass a bill.”


Because there’s a real political revolution happening in the House right now as Democrats refuse to sit back while more and more Americans are killed by guns. More than 100,000 Americans are shot each year and between 33,000 and 35,000 are killed.

It’s more than 12 hours since Lewis, who was first arrested 56 years ago for a sit-in to de-segregate a Woolworth’s lunch counter, started a sit-in on the House floor over gun control.

Lewis, outraged by the Senate’s failure to pass even one of four gun control bills put forward on June 20, wanted the House to have the opportunity to vote on the bills, which House Republicans had dismissed.

The protest began when House Democrats led by Lewis began chanting “no bill, no vote.” They shouted down Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) efforts to gavel the House into session at about 11:30 a.m. EST. The protest disrupted the House actions the entire day.

Gun control has been raised anew in Congress since the June 12 shooting at the Pulse an LGBT nightclub in Orlando. It was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, killing 50, including the shooter, Omar Mateen and wounding 53.

On June 15, three days after the shooting, there was a filibuster in the Senate over gun control, initiated by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). Murphy has been an outspoken gun-control advocate since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut two weeks before Christmas 2012.

That incident killed 20 first graders as well as seven adult womenteachers and the school’s principal who had attempted to stop the shooter, Adam Lanza. Lanza also died and he had murdered his mother before going to the school.

Nearly all the Senate Democrats had supported Murphy’s 15-hour filibuster, as had two Republicans. But when it came time to vote, four Democrats joined the Republicans in voting down each successive bill, including one with a provision for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to do research into gun violence.

How is that controversial?

Public outrage over the votes was swift. Polls after the Orlando shooting were succinct. In a CNN/ORC poll on June 20, concern over gun control was high. The poll found 55 percent of Americans are in favor of stricter gun laws, with 42 percent opposed.

This marked the highest numbers since January 2013, a month after the Sandy Hook shootings. In October 2015, 46 percent said they were in favor with 52 percent opposed. So the numbers have flipped toward gun control. (The current poll sampled 1,001 adults via landlines and cell phones between June 13 and June 19.)

On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee who has been the only candidate in the primary discussing gun control, found strong support among those attending her rallies. While her opponent, Donald Trump, was touting guns and has been endorsed by the NRA, Clinton argued that there needed to at least be controls over those on terror watch lists.

“If you are too dangerous to get on a plane, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America,” Clinton asserted, prompting the hashtag #NoFlyNoBuy.

But the GOP Senate even voted down a measure that would disallow people on terror watch lists from buying guns, which most Americans find inexplicable. Mateen had at one time been on a terror watch list, but was not at the time he bought the weapons with which he committed the mass shooting at Pulse.

On June 22, Lewis began his argument for a civil disobedience action by saying, “The time is always right to do right. Our time is now. Sometimes you have to get in the way. You have to make some noise by speaking up and speaking out against injustice and inaction.”

Lewis asked, “What is the tipping point? How many more mothers? How many more fathers need to shed tears of grief, before we do something?”

It was, he said, “Time to occupy the House to demand action….We have to disturb the order of things to build a world at peace with itself.”

Lewis’s oratory was soon cut short by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan determined that a sit-in–the 76 year old Lewis and others were getting down on the floor in old-school civil disobedience stylewould disrupt business of the House and therefore he suspended the House for the day, putting it into recess.

Ryan’s attempt at silencing the protest didn’t work. While C-SPAN can only broadcast from the House when it is in session, the Speaker’s media blackout was subverted by protestors live-streaming the events from their cell phones and broadcasting them via Periscope to C-SPAN.

But by evening, C-SPAN was broadcasting anyway. Then after a rules battle, Ryan turned off the cameras near midnight and Democrats were back to broadcasting via cell phone streaming, periscope and Facebook.

Why the lack of transparency?

Why shutter democracy in action?

A political revolution was underway on the floor of the House all day long and Republicans were at a loss as to how to quell it. Ryan told the media Lewis’s action was “a publicity stunt,” but Democratic Senators joined with their colleagues over the course of the afternoon, including Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Al Franken (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the only out lesbian in the history of the Senate and many others.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), who had not been present in the Senate for the filibuster, stopped by late afternoon in a show of solidarity, but only stayed for five minutes.

One of the most inspirational members of the House is Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a double amputee from her service in Iraq, was there in her wheelchair. She stood to speak, then she took off her prosthetics and sat on the floor with everyone else, a vision of democratic commitment.

It was almost 11p.m. when Lewis went out onto the Capitol lawn to speak to hundreds of people who had gathered outside in solidarity. He said, “By standing here tonight, by standing with us, you’re bearing witness to the truth. You must never ever give up or give in or give out,” Lewis said. “We got to stop the violence and do something about the proliferation of guns.”


Gun violence is one affliction that impacts every American. Each year 100,000 Americans are shot. If a disease killed tens of thousands of people each year, we’d be studying it to see how to end it.

We aren’t doing that with gun violence. We know that domestic violence and gun violence are linked, as they were in the Orlando and Sandy Hook shootings.

We know that the most common option for suicides is gunsirrespective of age or gender. We know that children kill other children every year in accidental shootings. And yet there are a half BILLION guns in Americaand those are the legal ones.

It hit home for LGBT Americans June 12 after the Orlando shooting. As funerals have begun to be held, the pain and suffering of survivors has reverberated through the LGBT community.

One seemingly counterintuitive aspect of gun violence is that the more we discuss it, the more sales of guns go up. After the Orlando shooting, gun sales skyrocketed. Some attribute this to fears of too much gun control.

Donald Trump told his supporters after Orlando that “Hillary Clinton wants to take away your guns. [She] wants to abolish the Second Amendment. We’re not going to let that happen,” Trump said. “We’re going to preserve it, we’re going to cherish it.”

Clinton has called for universal background checks and stricter controls on firearms, but has never called for the abolition of the 2nd Amendment. Her website states gun ownership is “part of the fabric of many law-abiding communities.”

That’s how Pink Pistols feels. The pro-gun LGBT group thinks all LGBT people should have guns to protect themselves. Keeping safe by owning and knowing how to use a weapon is key to the group’s mission statement, taken from gay author Jonathan Rauch:

“Thirty-one states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible.”

Caitlyn Morris, 23, (who asked that we use a pseudonym) is a member of Pink Pistols and lives in a large city in the Northeast. She bought a gun after she and two of her lesbian friends were accosted by several men one night after they’d been partying near the college where they are all students.

“I was so scared,” said Morris. “We just felt so outnumbered and out–well–strength-ed. These were big dudes. We were lucky that night because some other folks came along. But I want to feel safe and I want to be able to protect my girlfriend if I have to.”

Morris and both friends bought guns, which Morris said was “maybe a little too easy” and then enrolled at a gun range for lessons–something not many gun owners do.

As a Texan, Michelle Belanger has always been comfortable with the idea of guns and thinks all women should have them, not just lesbians. Belanger says, “I am in favor of ALL women having the ability to exercise a protected right and own and carry weapons.

As to why I wanted one? I was on the road a lot and chose to carry for personal protectionit has the potential to leave one in a vulnerable postion.”

Chiandra Sherman (not her real name), 41, bought a gun after she came home one night to find her apartment had been burglarized along with two others in her building–all belonging to single women. “I was unable to sleep for days. I had to go stay with my sister.

I had just moved in there after breaking off a long-term relationship. It wasn’t like I could move again. I didn’t want my new girlfriend coming over. I felt like I had lost control of my own life when I had just gotten it back!”

Having the gun “made me feel secure,” Sherman, an academic, said. “Also, I think brown and black people are told they shouldn’t have guns. That guns are for white people to protect themselves against us.

When you look at some of these laws being proposed, they are often about controlling people of color. I wanted to have control. I am not a gun proponent, really, and I hope I never have to use it. But I absolutely believe I have a right to have one and use one if necessary.”

Sherman notes that women of color“especially queer women”are disproportionately victims of violence and she does not “want to be another statistic in a long, long list of dead women of color.”

Belanger believes that having a weapon in a situation like Orlando may have saved lives. She also feels better legislation needs to be proposed.

“My opinion on the [Senate] votes is that they were all correct,” she says. “Legislation related to a major topic like gun control should NEVER coattail on an appropriations bill. If it is that goddamned important, then it should be capable of passing as standalone legislation.

However, the other issue is that knee-jerk legislation is never a good thing in that it tends to overlook things like due process. ANYONE who believes in the Constitution should have been very worried about amendment attempts in the past few days from both sides of the floor…”


Morris, Belanger and Sherman all emphasized that although they each own guns, they hope never to use them. Belanger, who is very outspoken on the gun issue, was adamant that in a world where male violence is pervasive and women are often victims, responsible gun ownership is not an unreasonable response.

Morris, whose partner is Puerto Rican, said they have cried over and over about the Pulse victims, who were mostly Latinx. “I don’t ever want us to be in that position,” she said. “I think having the gun, knowing how to use it, just gives me a feeling of confidence I sure didn’t have that night [when the men accosted her] and I think that may actually be the best protection for me.”

Sherman said she doesn’t feel any affinity with “2nd Amendment fanatics” and never thought she would own a gun, but feels strongly “women have to take ownership of their own protection. We see every day, especially from our leadership in Washington, that no one is making any effort to do that for us.”

What will be a game changer for America on gun violence? Must we all choose to be gun owners to counter the shooters who seem to be everywhere? Or can we create some balance between those “2nd Amendment fanatics,” men who want to kill and the rest of us who, like the Democrats in the House and their Senate compatriots, feel something can be done to staunch the killing?

Just days after the Pulse shooting was the one year anniversary of the Charleston shooting when Dylann Roof  went into a church and murdered nine black Americans while they prayed. Background checks would have stopped him from getting the guns he bought.

But Omar Mateen had no bar to buying guns, unless he had remained on that terror list. He, like a majority of mass shooters, was just another American who raised no red flags as he went to buy the weapons he was planning to use to kill as many gay people as he could.

Between these two mass shootings there are answers. The sit-in by a lifelong activist may not have given us the answers, but it certainly drew the attention of the nation to the Capitol and to the lawmakers who are supposed to work for us.

Belanger may be correct when she says laws should be able to stand alone. But what we witnessed in the House chamber on June 22 was just how determined GOP lawmakers are to not even address the issue. Why can’t bills–and arguments for and against–be heard?

Why can’t this debate be opened up rather than shut down? Why is the Speaker so determined to black out the media when this is the most compelling issue for more than half of American voters in an election year?

John Lewis took the House to a place of activism and brought America with him. After June 22, Americans know which of their elected officials are willing to stand up for the people first and the NRA last.

Nearly 300 people were shot in America while the House sit-in was going on. If people were dropping in the streets from anything else, we’d think it was a national emergency.

It is. And it shouldn’t take 20 murdered six year olds and 49 murdered LGBT people to remind us of that reality.