Democratic lawmakers ended their more than 24-hour sit-in on the House floor Thursday, but promised that agitation for a gun control measure will continue.
Seizing on the mass shooting in Orlando, which killed 49 patrons at a gay nightclub, Democrats are demanding votes on two bills to restrict firearms purchases — including one measure that would bolster Bush-era surveillance initiatives.
“Let me be really clear about this. We cannot stop until we get a bill, until a law is passed,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday.
One proposal Democrats want considered would mandate background checks for all gun buys online and at trade shows, closing the so-called gun show loophole. The measure was considered earlier this week on the floor of the Senate and defeated.
Democrats are also pushing for legislation that would prevent anyone who appears on the government’s terror watch lists from purchasing a gun.
That proposal has drawn the ire of civil liberties advocates who say the maneuver would bolster a secretive, racially-biased list that lacks appropriate due process.
There are roughly 1.1 million names in the government’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE). The so-called “no-fly list” — a subset of the TIDE database — contains roughly 50,000 names. Critics of the plan point to the size of the flagged population, and numerous reports of wrongful inclusion to argue that it’s unreliable.
“We know that there are no meaningful or even at this point knowable ways for determining who’s on a watch list or should be, and connecting that to gun purchases is only doubling down on a problematic situation to begin with,” Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights told the Guardian this week.
“There are many ways the government can limit the use of guns and assault weapons without having to double down on their hysterical post-9/11 strategies,” he said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has filed suit on behalf of citizens claiming to be improperly watch-listed, has alleged that the government uses the list to threaten American Muslims into being informants.
Authorities “utilized the watch list, not as a tool to enhance aviation and border security, but as a bludgeon to coerce American Muslims into becoming informants or forgoing the exercise of their rights, such as the right to have an attorney present during law enforcement questioning,” CAIR said in court documents.
The Democrats’ protest began on Wednesday morning and persisted until early Thursday afternoon, clogging up business in the lower chamber. Their occupation continued even after Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) gaveled the House into recess early Thursday morning, with no plans to return until next month.
Ryan called the protest a “publicity stunt.”
Rep. John Lewis (R-Ga.), who led the protest for much of the day, said Democrats have no intention of letting the issue fade away.
“When we come back in July, we will start all over again,” he said early Thursday morning. “We made some progress. We crossed one bridge, but we have other bridges to cross,” Lewis added.
More than 170 lawmakers participated in the sit-in. They held up signs with the names of gun victims, and repeated chants like “no bill, no break” and “no fly, no buy.”
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton met with House Democrats on Wednesday morning before the action began. Prominent Senators like Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were also seen joining in on the protest.
The sit-in persisted despite a decision by Speaker Ryan to cut off the camera feeds and microphones in the House chamber. In response, Democrats resorted to online live streaming platforms like Periscope to continue broadcasting their actions.
Republicans occasionally took to the floor to taunt their colleagues’ protest. Late Wednesday night, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) got into a shouting match with Democrats.
“Radical Islam killed the people,” Gohmert began yelling from the well, pointing to pictures of the victims in the Orlando mass shooting. He had to be restrained by fellow lawmakers.
While Democrats managed to shut down the House, the Senate inched closer to passing their own gun control bill targeting those who’ve been secretly watchlisted.
A compromise measure drafted by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) would prohibit individuals on the government’s “no-fly” list from purchasing a firearm, while also affording them the ability to appeal their inclusion in the secret database.
Rather than holding a vote to pass the measure, however, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday convened a vote to kill it. Though it survived in a 52-46 vote thanks to the help of mostly Democrats, Collins’ amendment would need to obtain 60 votes to pass if it’s considered again in the upper chamber.