A war of words erupted on the House floor in Washington on Wednesday as dozens of Democrats staged a sit-in to push for votes on gun-control bills. Tensions flared when Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas derailed the debate shouting “Radical Islam!”
Democrats chanted “No bill, no break!” holding pieces of paper with the names of victims of gun violence across the US. The challenge was to convince Republicans to hold votes on bills designed to step up background checks and ban gun purchases to suspected terrorists in the wake of the Orlando nightclub attack, the worst mass shooting in modern US history.
The confrontation between the Democrats and Republicans nearly turned physical when Gohmert began yelling, “radical Islam killed these people, ISIS killed these people,” CBSNews reported.
Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida started shouting back at the Republican. Lawmakers from both parties rushed to separate the two as they appeared about to come to blows.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan later said the protest was “nothing more than a publicity stunt.”
“We’re not going to take away a citizen’s constitutional rights without due process,” he told CNN, confirming that Republicans will not allow a vote on gun control bills.
“Are they more afraid than the children at Sandy Hook?” AP quoted Mike Thompson, chairman of the 12-member House Democratic Gun Violence Prevention Task as saying, referring to the horrific school shooting that killed 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. “What is so scary about having a vote?”
“We have turned a deaf ear to the blood of innocents. We are blind to a crisis. Where is our courage?” veteran civil rights leader John Lewis added.
Democrats have pledged to continue their fight on stricter gun control laws when lawmakers reconvene next month.
Last week, Senator Chris Murphy led a 14-hour filibuster to call for action to end gun violence following the Orlando attack. His emotional Senate filibuster was one of the longest in US history, starting at 11:21am on Wednesday and finishing at 2:11am on Thursday. By Senate rules he had to remain at his desk to keep control of the floor. The 42-year-old said he was prepared to speak “for as long as I can” to highlight the need to prevent gun violence in the US.
The US Congress last made significant changes to federal gun laws in 2007, when it passed a law to beef up the instant background check system. The move came after it became clear that a gunman at Virginia Tech, who killed 32 people in April 2007, had managed to purchase weapons simply because his mental health history was not in the instant background check database.
In December last year, the Republican Senate voted against two gun control proposals put forward by Democrats following the San Bernardino shooting, during which two extremists killed 14 people. One of the proposals was designed to expand background checks for guns purchased online, the other to prevent suspects on the Homeland Security terror watchlist from purchasing firearms.