A House Sit-in Against the Gun Lobby

Elevating the gun crisis to the moral level of the 1960s civil rights struggle, Rep. John Lewis led a House floor sit-in to demand a vote on a bill to restrict access to deadly weapons, write Bill Moyers and Michael Winship.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

On March 7, 1965, 25-year-old John Lewis, already a veteran of the Freedom Rides, Mississippi’s Freedom Summer and Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, walked ahead of 600 civil rights activists as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on the first leg of what was meant to be a peaceful march for voting rights.

As they stepped off the end of the bridge, a posse of 150 state troopers and deputy sheriffs attacked them, wielding clubs, bullwhips and tear gas. Lewis was beaten to within an inch of his life. But he took the horrible pummeling of “Bloody Sunday” and survived to lead another march a week later. This time they kept going — all the way to the state capitol in Montgomery, 50 miles away.

John Lewis, now a U.S. congressman, being attacked during the voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.

John Lewis, now a U.S. congressman, being attacked during the voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.

Fifty-one years later, on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, John Lewis, now 76 and a member of Congress for nearly three decades, took another courageous and principled stand. Many of his Democratic colleagues joined him for a sit-in on the floor of the House chamber itself, the same kind of protest he and his fellow activists used so effectively during the 1960s.

This time they were agitating against one of the most grievous human rights horrors of all: the gun violence running amok in America, including the recent abomination of 49 deaths at that nightclub in Orlando, Florida. There have been nearly 100,000 gun deaths in the United States since the school murders in Newtown, Connecticut, just three and a half years ago.

In Selma in 1965, television cameras sent pictures of what was happening on the Pettus Bridge around the country and a shocked American public took to heart how deep the wounds remained between black and white. On Wednesday, Republican House leadership, as cruel and cold-of-heart as those Alabama state troopers, gaveled the House out of session so the cameras of C-SPAN could not show the American people the courage of those House members sitting on the floor and telling the National Rifle Association and its bought-and-paid-for politicians to go to hell.

Despite the loss of television’s probing eye, the demonstrators used social media like Facebook and Twitter to get out their story, putting their cell phones to good use and sending out photos and video of their action across the country and the world.

Lewis tweeted, “Sometimes you have to get in the way. You have to make some noise by speaking up and speaking out against injustice and inaction. #goodtrouble.”

Noah Pozner, 6, one of 20 children murdered on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Noah Pozner, 6, one of 20 children murdered on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

In a letter to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, Rep. Lewis and his colleague Rep. Katherine Clark asked, “What is this Congress waiting for? …We stand with thousands of brokenhearted families who have not been served by this Congress and millions more who are counting on us to find the moral courage to do the right thing. We stand together in our refusal to sit by while this Congress abdicates its fundamental responsibility to protect American families from harm.”

Once again the Republican leaders of Congress have been revealed for what they are: useful stooges of the gun merchants who would sell to anyone — from the mentally ill to a terrorist-in-waiting to a lurking mass murderer. And the Republican Party once again has shown itself an enabler of death, the enemy of life, a threat to the republic itself.

Today, John Lewis said, “The time is always right to do right. Our time is now.” The heroism on the Pettus Bridge turned the tide against the inhumanity of segregation. Today’s protest in the House of Representatives just might mark the beginning of the end of the gun industry’s grip on American life and liberty.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This story originally appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/today-john-lewis-stood-human-dignity/]

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19 comments for “A House Sit-in Against the Gun Lobby

  1. Zachary Smith
    June 23, 2016 at 11:24 am

    I’ve avoided examining the “House Sit-in” story because it struck me as a really stupid stunt. However, at the Naked Capitalism site this morning I saw a link to this opinion.

    The Democrats Are Boldly Fighting For a Bad, Stupid Bill

    http://gawker.com/the-democrats-are-boldly-fighting-for-a-bad-stupid-bil-1782449026

    The House Democrats are making total asses of themselves with a bill which would have done nothing at all to prevent the Orlando murders.

    • June 23, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      There is no Bill that can prevent every mass murder, but to allow people on the terror watch list to buy guns is idiotic. The Bill presented by the democrats could save SOME lives. What is wrong with that?
      How can the GOP continue to criticize Obama about fighting terrorists yet support suspected terrorists who want to buy guns?

      • TruthTime
        June 23, 2016 at 3:10 pm

        Save some lives huh. And then one day what happens when YOU end up on a no-fly list? Maybe you end up at a anti-government protest – bam, next thing you know you’re a terrorist in the eyes of the U.S. Police State. How would that affect your life? Would you know how to get off the list?

        Lastly why is it the U.S. doesn’t ban itself from giving guns to terrorists (illegally) in other countries? The ‘bill’ would do nothing to prevent that.

        • June 23, 2016 at 3:26 pm

          Bang on! No pun intended.

        • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
          June 23, 2016 at 5:59 pm

          “And then one day what happens when YOU end up on a no-fly list?” Where did you get that from?

          • Jerad
            June 24, 2016 at 4:52 am

            On the surface it sounds reasonable to say that anyone on the no fly list should automatically be disallowed from buying firearms. However, considering that the no fly list is itself completely lacking in transparency, I find the entire matter to be worrisome. What is done to stop terrorists and violent psychopaths today can be turned on law-abiding citizens tomorrow.

  2. J'hon Doe II
    June 23, 2016 at 11:26 am

    It’s lamentable how far removed from this history we are. Easy to forget and hard to remember. Easy to ignore obvious injustices.

    http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-daum-sotomayor-dissent-20160623-snap-story.html

  3. Monte George Jr
    June 23, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    The current panic to legislate new gun legislation worries me.

    The prohibition against depriving citizens of life, liberty, or property without due process of law is the central pillar of our constitution and our way of life. There is no due process involved in “terrorist” or “no fly” lists. None. These are created and maintained in secret star chamber proceedings which citizens have no voice in, no visibility into, no legal recourse against. The current proposals to deny gun ownership to citizens who are on a “watch list” or “no fly list” would deny a basic liberty without due process. Denial of gun ownership must be the result of a legal process involving legitimate court hearings with a defendant’s right to be presented with evidence of wrong-doing and to present arguments and evidence in his own defense. Any other approach is undemocratic, unconstitutional and un-american.

    • TruthTime
      June 23, 2016 at 3:05 pm

      Also the fact that since the U.S. has devolved into a Police State, you can land yourself on a Terror Watch List and thusly a no-fly list for numerous reasons – one of which is simply being a political activist. You can get on such a list without knowing why or how to get yourself off of it!

      These are things proponents of this ridiculous bill do not even acknowledge. They shall reap what they sow.

      How about a gun ban instead be initiated on the U.S. Government and especially the Department of Defense. Tax payers give roughly 40 to 50 million to the DoD so they can deploy guns and other arms in illegal wars! Where is the gun ban on that!? They EVEN give such things to radicals in the ME or Neo-Nazis in Ukraine!

      The U.S. government should be on a no-fly list for being the biggest terrorist organization this world has ever seen. Violence in America is Top Down. Corruption and Dysfunction trickles down in society.

      • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
        June 23, 2016 at 6:12 pm

        You are an utter idiot. If someone is convicted of terrorist activity, or is a criminal, of course they are not allowed on flights! Its common sense! You can’t go to other countries if you have committed serious crimes – at least that’s the way it works in Canada. You say that its because the U.S has become a police state, when in fact I think it has always been this way! The idea that their civil liberties are denied is idiotic! Besides, I would think that many gun-control advocates are opposed to intervention in Ukraine.

        • Jerad
          June 24, 2016 at 4:54 am

          The problem is that a person does not have to be convicted of anything in order to be put on the no fly list. The process is without transparency and it lacks due process. The truth is that the relevant bureaucrats can put anyone on the list, without offering that person a notification or an explanation. I do not trust any government with that sort of power.

        • TruthTime
          June 24, 2016 at 10:11 am

          And you are an ignorant fool or a State Department lackey. See how this works or shall we find other things to call each other?

          The No-Fly List is unconstitutional and largely targets brown-colored people with no due process!

          And No, many Congress Critter Advocates were unopposed to the last recent “defense bill” that includes giving guns to Ukraine that end up in the hands of Modern Day Nazi’s! The Republicans AND Democrats were almost unanimous on that! And guess what, American taxpayers get to partake in the slaughter of Eastern Ukrainians.

          So again where was the Gun “Control” on that one? I certainly don’t see it.

    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      June 23, 2016 at 6:00 pm

      Nonsense. If someone has a criminal record, they may be refused employment at certain jobs. A convicted pedophile cn’t get a job at a daycare. The fact you are saying their rights are being violated is stupid.

  4. June 23, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    A big fail for Moyers and Winship here.

    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      June 23, 2016 at 6:01 pm

      What rubbish.

  5. Brad Benson
    June 23, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Is that John Lewis, who never saw Bernie Sanders during the Civil Rights Marches and who is supporting a WAR CRIMINAL, Hillary Clinton, for President? Was that Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the fixer, down there on the floor with John Lewis? Was that an attention grab on the same day that Hillary Clinton visited Congress like a conquering heroine? Was the Clinton Machine behind this bogus show of protest? Score 4 points is you answered “yes” to all four.

    • Joe Tedesky
      June 23, 2016 at 10:03 pm

      Brad, I wasn’t going to comment of this subject, since I’m still processing in my head what this sit-in may really be about. Yes, I have grown to be cynical of nearly everything that comes out of our nations capital. In your comment you name names and their support for Hillary Clinton, and yes, these congress people have in my mind loss a lot of credibly. Plus, I could think of many, and I certainly do mean many of today’s red hot issues that are left undone, and how always these same congressional protesters always let it slide. I’m not sure what is compelling these congressional representatives to rally around this cause, but I have my suspicions, and my suspicions aren’t that good. My guess is, they are making a good issue for HRC to gather support for her to campaign on. If you recall Hillary was chasing Bernie around with the gun issue. So, should we expect this to turn out to be a diversion issue, which will obscure Hillary’s terrible foreign policy debacles? In fact, during the so called debate theaters that the media provided for us, how often was Hillary asked anything about Libya, or Honduras?

  6. David G
    June 23, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    John Lewis, done sliming Bernie Sanders, stages a protest to pass a law requiring Muslims to undergo extra scrutiny before they can purchase a gun. That doesn’t sound very nice, but given what these lists really are, isn’t that what this amounts to?

  7. Zachary Smith
    June 25, 2016 at 9:53 am

    The Godawful Bill at the Center of the Gun Sit-In

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-godawful-bill-at-the-center-of-the-gun-sit-in-20160623

    Just for the record, it’s my opinion that we’re way overdue to start talking how the 2nd Amendment needs to be changed. That’s where to start – not just fiddling with silly lists of who can buy a modified modern war weapon.

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