That was the message Thursday from the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and other Republicans in the face of a sit-in by Democrats over the issue of gun control.
Democrats wanted a vote on a couple of relatively innocuous, common-sense measures to expand background checks on gun purchasers and prohibit gun sales to people who are on the no-fly – people who are suspected of being terrorists. Both measures have overwhelming public support. Somewhere, depending upon the poll, between 80 and 90 percent of Americans approve the measures.
Republicans in the House are not among that overwhelming majority. They were – and are – so determined to avoid a vote or even a discussion of America’s gun violence epidemic that they ignored a sit-in that started Wednesday morning and lasted into Thursday.
To avoid dealing with the issue, Republicans adjourned.
Rather than talk honestly about guns and violence, the GOP leaders fled.
Democrats vowed to continue the sit-in when the House resumes work on July 5.
Republicans’ determination to avoid discussion of the carnage connected to guns in America is part of the strategy the well-paid lobbyists for the National Rifle Association and other parts of the gun lobby have used for years.
When the discussion turns to guns and people start asking why the United States can’t solve a problem every other nation in the developed world has, the flacks for the NRA and their well-trained house pets in elected office observe some simple rules.
Deny. Deny. Deny.
That is why members of Congress beholden to the gun lobby rammed through a measure to prevent the Centers from Disease Control from even researching gun violence. The last thing the NRA wants is for people to have facts, rather than the gun lobby’s increasingly deluded mythology about America’s history in regard to firearms, to consider while they ponder the wisdom of our weapons laws.
That’s also why, at the state level, the NRA’s chief water-carrier, Indiana Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, felt the need a couple of years ago to belittle and berate a woman testifying before a legislative committee about gun control – even though he had all the votes in the legislature he needed (and more) to stop any measure she might propose. The goal is not just to stop gun control measures from becoming law, but to intimidate people so much that they won’t even talk or think about gun control – all in the name of preserving constitutional rights, of course.
And it is also the reason Republican leaders flee the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives rather than take a vote on gun control measures they know they have the votes to defeat.
Deny. Deny. Deny.
Speaker Ryan dismissed the Democrats’ sit-in as “a publicity stunt.”
Yeah, but that’s beside the point.
Because of the NRA’s stranglehold on the legislative process, advocates for sensible gun laws now are looking for – and finding – ways to force the discussions the gun lobby is determined to suppress.
There’s a long history of House members going to unusual lengths to force discussions. Because the Democrats’ sit-in was led by civil rights legend U.S. Rep. John Lewis, R-Georgia, most observers looked to the protests of the 1960s as an inspiration.
There are even earlier precedents.
In the 1830s and 1840s, U.S. Rep. John Quincy Adams, a former president, engaged in a series of maneuvers designed to force discussion on an issue upon which the House’s leadership had imposed a gag rule. Adams’ actions enraged opponents, who, like Paul Ryan, dismissed them as stunts.
The issue Adams wanted to talk about was slavery.
He knew he didn’t have the votes to abolish slavery at that time. But he also knew that there shouldn’t be any subject that free people should be afraid or denied the opportunity to talk about.
More than that, Adams believed there shouldn’t be any issue troubling the American people that could not be considered by the House of Representatives – which, once upon a time, was called “the people’s house.”
The people’s house.
When the American people get killed at rate 20 times higher than the rest of the developed world, it’s time for leaders to … take a vacation.