Good Trouble

Jun 28, 2016

One day after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history killed 49 people and nearly a year after nine prayerful souls were gunned down at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC I sought recognition from the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives attempting to raise a Parliamentary Inquiry. I wanted to inquire as to when we might be able to expect a vote on several pieces of legislation that would make our communities safer, our families more secure ‎ and our gun ownership laws more sensible. My Inquiry was not responded to, and I was ruled out of order.

The so-called “No Fly, No Buy” bill, H.R. 1076, would deny gun purchases to individuals on the terrorist watch list who are prohibited from flying.

H.R. 1217, sponsored by Representatives Mike Thompson and Peter King, would‎ require universal background checks for gun purchases.

Representative David Cicilline’s bill, H.R. 4603, would prevent those found guilty of hate crimes from purchasing a firearm.

My bill, H.R. 3051, would close the so-called “Charleston loophole,” which allows for the sale of a gun to be consummated after three days, even if the background check has not been completed. That loophole allowed the confessed killer of the “Emanuel 9" to purchase a firearm which, if the background check had been completed, he would not have been allowed to buy.

Tuesday of last week I made a second attempt to inquire about the four bills discussed above, and the result was the same. I was silenced by the rules of the House.

But this time, John Lewis, my friend of over 55 years, and colleague in the US House of Representatives for the last 23 years, responded by leading an unprecedented “Sit-in” on the House floor. He was assisted in this effort by John Larson of Connecticut, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, Robin Kelly of Illinois and David Cicilline of Rhode Island. More than 200 House Members and Senators supported this unprecedented event, and we occupied the House Floor for more than 25 hours.

Although House Republicans adjourned the session and cut off the House’s cameras and microphones, Democrats refused to be silenced. Led by Scott Peters and Eric Swalwell of California, and Beto O’Rourke of Texas, social media were utilized to spread the word to the American people. The response has been fantastic. We have engaged people all over the country who have added their voices to our call for common sense gun violence prevention.

The final hours of our occupation were managed by Steve Israel of New York who called on me to present John Lewis for closing comments as we brought our unprecedented action to a climax. In presenting John, I reminisced about the first time he and I met, which was also my first meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. I remarked about the irony of our 1960 meeting and this 2016 sit-in both being about the right to vote.

John and I have internalized much from our experiences with Dr. King‎. One of them re-enforced a constant refrain my father often used to impress upon my siblings and me the importance of activism, “Silence gives consent.” Dr. King re-enforced that notion in his letter from the Birmingham City Jail when he wrote, “we are going to be made to repent in this generation, not just for the vitriolic words and deeds of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

We Democrats have broken our silence on these nonsensical gun ownership laws that are clear and present danger to the safety and security of our fellow Americans. Doing so has brought me a threat of physical rebuke by a pseudo-newsperson that has me trembling in my boots and prompted an editorial writer of a mainstream newspaper to call our peaceful, non violent protest disgraceful.

I have read that we may be in a little trouble with the Speaker for having broken some House Rules. But as John Lewis often intones, “sometimes we need to get in the way, get in a little trouble, good trouble.” I agree with John, and I have never felt better about being in a little trouble.