By Julianne Malveaux
I have always had enormous admiration for Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), and that admiration increased exponentially when I watched him lead dozens of his Congressional colleagues to sit-in on the floor of Congress to force a vote on gun control. As the supercilious Paul Ryan called for “decorum” (where is the decorum in a man walking into a nightclub with an automatic weapon and gunning 49 people down), determined Democrats disrupted proceedings in the House of Representatives. Right on.
Congressman Lewis tweeted, “Sometimes you have to get in the way. You have to make some noise by speaking up and speaking out against injustice & inaction.” He is frustrated, as are many voters, about the fact that Congress has failed to take a position on background checks and the availability of assault weapons. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is equally frustrated, saying, “Moments of silence aren’t substitute for the action needed on gun violence.” Republicans have attempted to deflect, suggesting that the focus should be ISIS and terrorism, not gun violence. But the Newtown, Connecticut shooter was not a terrorist connected to ISIS. Indeed, troubled white men perpetrated many of our recent mass shootings with access to guns, not ISIS loyal terrorists. No matter. Can’t Congress walk and chew gum at the same time? Can’t they focus both on ISIS and on our out-of-control gun culture?
Nobody is talking about repealing the Second Amendment (though that might not be a bad idea). Still, the “right to bear arms” does not mean the unfettered right to bear all kinds of arms. Nobody needs an automatic weapon. And anyone deemed dangerous or mentally ill need never be allowed a gun purchase. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is an irresponsible organization that elevates the right for any random citizen to own and bear arms over the right of other citizens to survive. Members of Congress need to cut the cord from that organization. Voters need to back them up.
One might think the Congressional sit-in has yielded few results. House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the plug on CSPAN coverage and dismissed the sit-in as
a “stunt.” Still, responding to the fact that 90 percent of us in
the United States support background checks and restrictions on access to weapons, those who sat in showed enormous courage. And, taking advantage of social media, they broadcast their sit-in using Periscope, reminding Ryan that he might control CSPAN, but he doesn’t control all broadcast.
Ryan was insulting and condescending in calling the sit-in a “stunt,” and he reminded me of the many reasons I so admire Congressman John Lewis. Was the Atlanta Congressman’s skull fractured in a “stunt” in 1965 on Bloody Sunday, when his civil rights activity caused rabid whites to attack him? Lewis pulled no stunt; he stood for what he believed in then. He is standing, firmly in his belief now, and using the time-honored tactic of protest to bring attention to the important cause of gun control.
Congressman Lewis and his colleagues were not successful in forcing votes on gun control. But they were successful in shutting the House down. Speaker Ryan was forced to adjourn Congress before he planned to, and Republicans sulked off like thieves in the night. Democrats held the floor hours after the Republicans scurried away, like hungry rats. No vote was forced, but a point was made.
Congress goes back to work on July 5. People should urge their representatives to take an appropriate vote to reduce access to guns, especially for those on a “no fly” list. People should also give Congressman John Lewis a “shout out” and appreciation for his leadership. He has taken the tactics of the 60s and taken them into the twenty-first century. He has reminded us that “stunts” have their purpose. His unassailable moral courage is admirable. Thank you, Congressman Lewis, for your activism in the 1960s and now. You are much appreciated!
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available via juliannemalveaux.com or amazon.com.