When U.S. Congressional Democrats demanded votes on gun control measures last week, Republican leaders turned off the cameras.
The action is strangely similar to what congressional Democrats did in 2008 to answer a Republican protest over energy legislation.
But in 2016, Democratic Party lawmakers had a new way to get their protest message out. They used cameras on mobile telephones to provide live video of their speeches on social media. That technology was not available in 2008.
So, Americans could watch as Congressman John Lewis, a leader of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, spoke about the cost of gun violence.
Focus on Orlando Shooting
Lewis said that guns kill 30,000 people across the country each year.
“We have lost too many of our children, our babies,” he said. “We have lost too many of our mothers and fathers.”
The Georgia congressman and other Democratic lawmakers took turns speaking for nearly 26 hours straight in the House of Representatives. Many held up pictures of people killed by guns.
Much of their focus was on the 49 people killed earlier this month at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Since the Orlando shootings, congressional Democrats have stepped up efforts to pass gun control legislation. At the top of their list are bills to expand background checks. Supporters say such bills, when enacted, would stop people with a criminal record, or who support terrorism, from buying guns.
The Democrats also want to ban the military-style weapons used in the Orlando attack and other recent mass shootings. They include the one last December in San Bernardino, California, the mass killing at a Connecticut elementary school in 2012, and the attack at a Colorado movie theater.
Focus on Terrorism
The Republican Party holds majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Republican lawmakers generally support the position of the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA argues against bills that would limit what the group says is a constitutional right to own guns.
“Terrorism is the issue and defeating terrorism is our focus here in the House,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. “Let me be really clear. We are not going to take away the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.”
Ryan called the Democratic protest a “political ploy.”
Marc Morial is president of the National Urban League. He has supported gun control laws since the 1990s, when he was mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana. He was the first mayor to take legal action against gun manufacturers for deaths and injuries on the streets of New Orleans. But the case failed.
Morial told VOA he is not surprised gun control bills continue to face strong opposition. It reflects the power of the NRA, he said.
“It is also due to a strong gun culture among many Americans, who enjoy hunting and want guns for self-protection,” Morial said.
Republican Offers Compromise
Just hours after the House of Representatives protest ended Thursday, the Senate took up a gun control bill written by Maine Senator Susan Collins, a Republican, with moderate Democrats and Republicans.
By a 52-46 vote, the Senate agreed to let her bill move forward. But that was still eight votes short of what Collins needs for Senate passage.
Her bill would block gun sales to individuals on U.S. government “no fly” lists because of their suspected links to terrorists. Also stopped from buying guns would be people required to go through additional airport screening because of security concerns. Her bill would permit court hearings for those denied the chance to buy guns.
The National Rifle Association’s Chris Cox said the Collins’ bill does not do enough to protect gun rights.
“Unfortunately, Senator Collins and others are focusing their efforts on unconstitutional proposals that would not have prevented the Orlando terrorist attack,” he said.
He added that Congress should focus on fighting terrorism.
Shannon Frattaroli is a professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy. He said most of the 30,000 gun violence victims killed each year are not killed by terrorists, but by people they know.
Attention for Democrats Is New
Catholic University political science professor Matthew Green said all the attention paid to congressional Democrats last week was unusual.
Usually, the leaders of the majority party and the news media ignore the minority party, Green said. But he said all the attention to the Democratic protest probably will not be enough to pass a single gun control bill this year.
I’m Bruce Alpert.
Words in This Story
focus – n. the subject on which people's attention is placed
background check – n. a formal look to see if someone has something in his or her past that would make them a risk
law-abiding – adj. obeying laws
ploy -- n. a clever trick or plan that is used to get someone to do something or to gain an advantage over someone
screen – v. to check people for dangerous items such as guns