A June sit-in by U.S. House of Representatives Democrats on the house floor galvanized gun control supporters, but Republican congressmen representing our readers in Amherst, Oberlin and Wellington said they went off half-cocked.
The sit-in June 15 and 16 was modeled after the 1960 sit-in over segregated lunch counters at the F.W. Woolworth Co., in Greensboro, N.C.
It was part of an effort to get two gun control bills voted on in the wake of the June 12 mass shooting at a gay night club in Orlando, Fla., that killed 49 and wounded 53 before police killed shooter Omar Mateen.
One bill would forbid suspected terrorists on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s no-fly list from buying guns. The second would forbid gun purchases at gun shows and on the Internet without background checks.
Democrats said the protest was a response to House Republicans’ refusal to pass stricter gun control despite hundreds of mass shootings since Republicans gained the majority in the House in 2011. Mass shootings are defined by the FBI as when the shooter kills three or more people.
While Democrats said they were making a principled stand, U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Lakeville) and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana) accused them of grandstanding.
“It was deplorable. They disrupted the people’s business,” said Gibbs, who represents the 7th congressional district, which includes Wellington. “It was nothing but a publicity stunt.”
Jordan didn’t consent to an interview or respond to a series of emailed questions. But in an emailed statement, he said through a spokesman that the bills wouldn’t have stopped Mateen.
“Instead, it would have given more power to an administration that has a history of abusing its power and targeting political opponents,” said Jordan, who represents the 4th congressional district including Amherst and Oberlin. “We need to focus on stopping terrorists, not law-abiding citizens.”
Mateen had been investigated by the FBI over death threats and his association with an American who blew himself up in Syria while fighting for the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate. Mateen was placed on the no-fly list but removed due to a lack of evidence he was a terrorist. Mateen, a guard for G4S, an international security company, had a concealed-carry permit and legally purchased the semi-automatic rifle and semi-automatic pistol used in the massacre.
Democrats say its ludicrous to restrict people on the list from flying while allowing them to buy guns. But Gibbs said many people are mistakenly placed on the list.
The conservative Gibbs has an ally in the liberal American Civil Liberties Union, which while supporting gun control has sued the government over the list.
The ACLU said the list is deeply flawed because “it uses vague and overbroad criteria and secret evidence to place individuals on blacklists without a meaningful process to correct government error and clear their names.”
Gibbs said the list violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process. “We’ve got to make sure we’re not stomping on the Fifth Amendment to attack the Second Amendment,” he said.
Gibbs said he has supported spending more money to improve the existing background check system and more money should be spent on mental illness since many mass shooters were mentally ill. However, while federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks, individual sales by private sellers don’t require background checks in most states including Ohio.
About 40 percent of all guns transfers in the U.S. are done by unlicensed individuals, according to the Department of Justice. Roughly 85 percent of guns used in crimes and recovered by police were sold at least once by an unlicensed seller, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study.
The study recommended national background checks for all private sales. It said closing the so-called “gun show loophole” would have little effect on private sales since gun shows only account for four to nine percent of all gun sales.
Asked whether national background checks might keep guns out of the hands of criminals, Gibbs responded that he was concerned expanded checks might make it harder for law-abiding citizens to buy guns. “They’re going to get it one way or the other even if we had all these restrictions,” Gibbs said of criminals.
Gibbs also opposes a ban on semi-automatic rifles — the 1994 federal assault weapons ban was allowed to expire by Republicans in 2004 — saying they’re not much different from shotguns.
However, shotguns have far less range than semi-automatic rifles, which have a maximum effective range of between 400 to 600 meters. And unlike shotguns, semi-automatic rifles can be equipped with high-capacity magazines with 30 rounds or 75-round drums.
While pistols are used in the vast majority of the approximately 33,000 annual gun deaths, semi-automatic rifles have been been used in some of the deadliest mass shootings in the last four years. Semi-automatic rifles were used in the Orlando massacre; the San Bernardino, Calif., killings in December; the Umpqua Community College killings in Oregon in October, and the Aurora, Colo., movie theater killings; and the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, both in 2012.
Mother Jones magazine analyzed 62 mass shootings between 1982 and 2012. It defined mass shootings as indiscriminate killings in public places where at least four people died rather than shootings involving more typical incidents such as drug disputes or robberies.
The analysis found that of the 143 weapons used, 20 were semi-automatic rifles, 42 were semi-automatic pistols or semi-automatic rifles equipped with high-capacity magazines, which were defined as clips with more than 10 rounds. Forty-eight of the weapons would’ve been outlawed under a 2013 bill sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein, (D-Calif.) which would’ve banned sales of semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines.
The bill was defeated 60-40 in the Senate. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Cleveland) voted yes. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Cincinnati) voted no.
Despite the carnage they are capable of, Gibbs said people should have the right to keep assault rifles for hunting and self-defense. “That just goes further and further and further,” Gibbs said of the ban invoking the “slippery slope” argument of the National Rifle Association, which contends gun control will eventually lead to gun confiscation.
Jordan — who supports background checks for people applying for concealed-carry permits — also opposes an assault rifle ban and background checks for semi-automatic rifle purchasers.
“It’s about freedom,” he told Fox News shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre killed 20 children and six adults. “You’ve got to remember that bad guys aren’t stupid, they’re just bad.”
Janet Garrett, Jordan’s Democratic opponent, supports an assault weapons ban, saying semi-automatic rifles should only be used by police or the military. Garrett, of Oberlin, said it’s ludicrous to contend that semi-automatic rifles are needed for hunting or self-defense.
“The only thing you would need an assault weapon for is to kill a lot of people in a hurry,” said Garrett who also supports a ban on high-capacity magazines. “Anything that is a weapon designed for war, we don’t need that in the streets.”
Garrett also supports expanding background checks to all guns sales, saying it won’t keep law-abiding citizens from buying guns but will make it harder for criminals to get guns. “We’ve got to get these guns off the streets,” she said.
Garrett said the no-fly list needs to be reformed, but she strongly supported both bills advocated at the sit-in.
“I was so proud of the Democrats for showing some backbone in this issue,” she said. “I honestly believe that we as a nation will at some point find a balance between the Second Amendment and public safety (but) we’re not there now.”
Despite Republicans refusing to vote on the bills, Democrats vowed to continue their fight.
“Don’t give up. Don’t give in,” civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said at a news conference after Democrats ended the unprecedented 25-hour sit-in June 16. “Keep your eyes on the prize.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter