Marin Voice: Making ‘good trouble’ to press Congress to address gun violence

July 02, 2016

Everyone’s hand went up.

We were on the House floor in the June 23 “sit-in” to protest congressional inaction on gun violence, and one of my colleagues asked, “How many of you have lost a constituent, friend or family member to gun violence?”

Everyone raised a hand.

At that moment, it became clear that for me and dozens of House Democrats, this is no abstract issue; it’s a grim reality in our own lives, for families and communities we serve, and for millions of other Americans.

That’s why so many watched streaming cellphone footage and cheered as our spontaneous protest grew into what could be a historic inflection point.

With stories of mass carnage becoming commonplace, our country must choose between starkly different visions of our future.

One choice is the NRA (“No Republican Action”) Plan: Do nothing. Under this dystopic scenario, powerful military weapons designed to maximize human casualties on the battlefield are readily available to anyone; and every office building, church, movie theater, and school is a “soft target” for the next unhinged killer. It means more high-profile mass shootings like Orlando, and more rampant daily gun violence that claims lives in communities throughout the country.

Another choice is to say “enough” to NRA and demand action.

This is the Democratic Plan. It includes comprehensive background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, perpetrators of domestic violence, mentally ill people and suspected terrorists. It includes improving our mental health system and lifting the ban on public health research regarding gun violence.

It won’t stop every mass shooting, but it will stop some and limit the damage from others.

I believe most Americans favor the Democratic Plan. The question is, can we overcome the “do nothing” inertia of the NRA Plan?

The June 23 sit-in was led by civil-rights icon John Lewis, who reminded us that sometimes you have to get into some “good trouble” to be a change-maker.

I’m proud to serve with Congressman Lewis, and I believe spurring progress on gun violence and breaking the NRA stranglehold on Congress justifies “good trouble.”

I know this: If we don’t take this stand, Congress’ response to the next mass shooting will be the same as it was for Orlando, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, and other tragedies. The speaker will bang his gavel and a “moment of silence” will begin. Thirty seconds later, the gavel will bang again and the House will resume business as usual.

I won’t dignify empty gestures anymore. In the face of our country’s worsening gun violence epidemic, if all the United States Congress offers is silence, then we are disrespecting the victims and betraying our public trust.

That’s why I’m co-sponsoring legislation to require a gun violence hearing after every “moment of silence” for the victims.

For my Republican colleagues who think silence and prayers should be the only response to gun violence, there’s a biblical lesson they should heed.

When Pharaoh’s army was closing in on the people of Israel, God told Moses to stop praying and move forward. (Exodus 14:15).

The American people are saying the same thing in growing numbers.

My office alone has received over 2,000 phone calls, letters and emails, plus countless social media posts urging Congress to bring our gun laws into the 21st century. I’ve been flooded with positive responses to the sit-in and my colleagues from around the country report similar feedback from their constituents.

With nine out of 10 Americans supporting the kind of robust background check reform Democrats are demanding, there’s no good reason for the Republican majority to continue stonewalling on this issue.

I can’t say exactly how my colleagues and I will continue our protest when Congress reconvenes next week, but I guarantee we are not backing down. We are prepared to get into “good trouble” until we see real progress.

And if congressional Republicans keep blocking votes, then the American people will deliver that progress in November.

By:  Congressman Jared Huffman