Legislators Have Staged A Sit-In In Support Of Gun Control. Here's How To Help.

It's not just the NRA that's holding them up.

On Wednesday, nearly 40 Democrats launched a sit-in on the House floor. Their strategic, heavily discussed protest is in response to an apparent national stalemate on implementing some measure of additional gun control. It speaks to a larger need for further discussion, and, hopefully, further action.

On Monday, four amendments that aimed to reform background checks or stop someone on a terror watch list from getting a gun were voted down by the Senate. To simplify it, let's just take a look at two of the proposals. Both were aimed at preventing someone on a terror watch list from getting guns. Both failed to get the necessary 60 votes on Monday. 

The first, sponsored by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, aimed to delay gun sales to people on government terror watch lists. The bill would have allowed permanent blocking of a purchase if a judge felt there was probable cause the potential buyer was involved in terrorist activity. The measure came to a 53-47 vote.

The second proposal, which had previously been pushed by California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein after the San Bernardino shooting, sought to ban all gun sales to people terror watch list. It was voted down 47-53. In both cases, votes were divided almost entirely according to party lines. 

Despite each proposal failing in the Senate, 90 percent of Americans support the measures, a nine percent increase in the wake of the Orlando shooting, according to a recent CNN/ORC poll. So, why can't any of these laws with widespread support pass in Senate or the House?


It's not just because of the NRA.

In the wake of all four proposals failing to pass the Senate, many have blamed the NRA and their lobbying of legislators. While it is true that the NRA gives lots of money to politicians, there are other factors: for one, Republicans and Democrats are both in the midst of intense re-election years, which makes them more likely to stick hard to party lines. Secondly, Republicans and the NRA have made it clear that their concern is more with the terror watch list and being able to appeal the denial of exercising Second Amendment rights.

Republicans agree it is unacceptable to allow someone suspected of terrorism to buy a weapon, but they have concerns about the size, scope and reliability of the terror watch list, and preventing anyone on it from buying a weapon. 

Cornyn's proposal included a three-day period where the Justice Department can stop a sale if it proves to a judge the potential buyer was involved in terrorist activity. 

Feinstein's proposal, in contrast, allows the Attorney General to block the sale of a weapon if there is "reasonable belief" the person may use the firearm for a terrorist act. Republicans (and the NRA) believe this process is unconstitutional.

"We all agree that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms," Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement. "We should all agree that law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a secret government list should not be denied their constitutional right to due process. These are not mutually exclusive ideas. It is shocking that the safety of the American people is taking a backseat to political theatre."

But there is still room for compromise, and legislators need to find it.

What doesn't seem to be up for debate is that change is necessary. After the deadliest mass shooting in American history, public pressure for new gun laws is at an all-time high, and Republicans and Democrats need to find a way to constitutionally prohibit dangerous people from acquiring weapons easily.

Since the four proposals failed, Republican Sen. Susan Collins has been working to put together a bipartisan bill that prevents people on the no-fly list from buying firearms. It also includes a "look-back provision" that notifies the FBI if someone on a terror watch list purchases a firearm, though it doesn't stop the sale.

The no-fly list is much smaller than the terror watch list and the bill has a far better chance of passing, though Republicans still may hold it up with concerns about being able to appeal. The total number of people on both lists is 100,000, and most are foreign nationals, according to The Atlantic.

Democrats have now been joined in their sit-in by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. A vote on Collins' bill could come soon, but even if it were to pass the Senate, it is less likely to pass in the House, where discussion about reforming gun laws have been chilly, to say the least. Rather than addressing gun control, House Speaker Paul Ryan has spent much of his time in the wake of the Orlando shooting advocating for increased counterterrorism efforts. 

But if our legislators are so closely adhering to party lines during debate because it's an election year, there's one clear way for their constituents to make an impact and stop the stalemate: Contact them. Say that you understand what's happening on the House floor, and discuss your preferred resolution. Let them know how important this issue is to you. Make your voice heard. 

Democracy works best when citizens move legislative conversations forward. Right now, we're standing (or, well, sitting) still.


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