Congress sit-in may finally lead to new gun laws

Growing number of politicians from both parties believe action needed to prevent more massacres.

The dramatic sit-in in the US Congress demanding action on gun control could yet deal the firearms industry the kind of body blow that crushed the country’s once all-powerful tobacco giants.

The sit-in, led by 76-year-old Democratic congressman and civil rights-era icon John Lewis, will not end gun massacres in America but it will almost certainly become a turning point in the battle.

A growing number of politicians from both parties who once cowered before the might of the gun-supporting National Rifle Association, lest it use its considerable war chest to end their careers, seem finally so sickened by gun massacres that their revulsion is becoming greater than their fear.

It would be wrong to think there is widespread cross-party Democratic and Republican support for action or that it could lead to major gun-control measures. But a Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, has already bucked the party trend.

After the Senate voted down four gun-control bills inspired by the Orlando massacre, Collins unveiled compromise legislation on Tuesday to ban some individuals suspected of terrorist ties from being able to purchase guns.

Democrats in the House of Representatives sit-in are seeking votes on a pair of similar but broader measures that would bar potential terrorists from buying guns and would close background-check loopholes for firearm sales at gun shows and over the internet.

Democrats also want tighter controls on the sale of military grade AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles like those used in Sandy Hook in 2012 when 20 children were killed, and in Orlando, when 49 people were killed.

It’s not certain how Collins’ measure will fare when the Senate returns from recess next month. Some suggested the Democrats’ sit-in in the House would fizzle out when the cameras moved on, while others agree with Republican House speaker Paul Ryan who sees it all as just an election-year stunt.

But that view may underestimate the power of Congress when it finally decides to flex its muscle and its moral authority on an issue.

There was a time, for example, when the tobacco companies, too, reigned supreme and blamed weak-minded smokers rather than addictive cigarettes for contributing to cancer deaths.

In 1994, the heads of the major US tobacco companies raised their hands in Congress and give sworn testimony that they did not believe nicotine was addictive.

The image of the seven chief executives testifying before Congress left an indelible impression on a sceptical American public and became an issue in the presidential election two years later.

Gun-control advocates suggest the same could happen in the 2016 election. In America, however, the success of any campaign often depends on it having a personal face with a powerful back-story.

This time, the gun-control advocates may have found their ‘tobacco moment’ in John Lewis, the revered African-American civil rights icon who survived brutal attacks in the bloody protest marches of the 1960s.

Lewis says the fight for gun restrictions will go on. “Today we’ve come a distance. We’ve made some progress,” he said.

“We’ve crossed one bridge but we have other bridges to cross. And when we come back in July, we’ll start all over again. The American people, they want us to act, they want us to do something.”

Democrats end house sit-in

House Democrats yesterday ended their more than 25-hour sit-in on the chamber’s floor that they had been staging to demand votes on gun control.

With just a few interruptions, Democrats commanded the House floor since 11.30am on Wednesday. The protest was broadcast live to the world over social media.

There are no indications last night that Republicans — who control the House — had met the Democrats’ demands.

Democrats wanted votes on bills strengthening background checks and barring firearms sales to people on the government’s no-fly list.

Still, Democrats are declaring victory anyway.

One of the protest leaders, civil rights veteran and Georgia lawmaker John Lewis, said: “We are going to win this struggle.”

 


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