U.S. Representative Bill Keating (D – MA) joined House Democrats in the Sit-In that began on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. The photo is from Rep. Keating’s Twitter account.
Congressman Keating’s participation in the Democratic Sit-In is particularly powerful.
Inspired by Civil Rights icon U.S. Representative John Lewis, Keating joined Democratic legislators in demanding debate and votes on two gun control bills, one of which would make it illegal for people on the Terrorist No-Fly list to purchase guns (“No Fly – No Buy”).
Before being elected to Congress in 2010, Keating served as District Attorney of Norfolk County in Massachusetts. In that capacity he would have gained a firsthand and intimate knowledge of crime, criminals, and threats to society. He would have made judgment calls on a daily basis whether the evidence warranted the pursuit of criminal convictions. That Mr. Keating, the former district attorney turned Congressman, made the judgment call to join the Sit-In is a profound statement.
But, he didn’t just sit by, as if a hesitant participant. With House microphones turned off by Speaker Ryan, he gave a fiery call to action easily heard by the visitors sitting in the galleries high above the floor, and now posted on his Twitter account. It was the job of Congress, he argued, to be the first responders answering the call emanating from gun violence throughout the country. “That’s our job! That’s our duty!” he pleaded. “Speaker Ryan, Republicans in committee, Republican colleagues, answer the call!” he begged. “It’s time to act like American who care about their fellow Americans and who want to stop this from happening. That’s our job! We are the first responders!”
The call Congressman Keating hears is coming from the gun deaths of 235 Americans in the last seven days. According to the Gun Violence Archive, they join the 289 Americans killed in the seven days before that. Together, these victims are part of the death toll of 6,380 Americans killed by a gun in the first 174 days of 2016. That is the equivalent of 130 Pulse Night Club tragedies – 49 victims every 32 hours.
Tragically, Congress has a history of not only refusing to answer the call, but turning its phones off. Last year, the Washington Post reported that in 1996 Congress stripped $2.6 million from the budget of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By design, that was the exact amount spent by the CDC on gun research the previous year. Though funding was restored, the appropriations bill mandated that “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” According to Mark Rosenberg, past director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Control and Prevention, this had the effect that, “All federally funded research [on gun safety] was shot down.” Twenty years later, in 2014, the CDC spent only $100,000 on research related to gun safety, just .03% of what it had spent in 1995.
Why are Speaker Ryan, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and NRA-funded legislators so afraid of public debate and scientific research on gun control? Why are they afraid of voting on legislation they have the votes to defeat?
Recorded as Luke 8:17 (NRSV) Jesus warned that “Nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.”
Perhaps they know that debate and research will prove people are not actually safer when they own a gun? That the presence of a gun in a household actually increases, rather than decreases, the chances that someone in that household will be killed by that gun. That women in households with guns are more likely to be killed by a gun than women in households without guns.
Perhaps they want to keep secret the truth that even though more guns in the United States lead to the death of thousands of Americans, it also provides larger profits for gun manufacturers. Likewise, they know that if Americans buy fewer guns, which would lead to a reduction in gun deaths, their profits would shrink and they would lose a lot of money.
I can see why, when it became clear that Democrats would not yield the floor, Speaker Ryan adjourned the House for two weeks and fled town. It will cost a lot of people a lot of money if the truth about the danger of guns is made known.
Thank you, Congressman Keating and Democratic legislators for answering the call! With the blood of thousands of Americans killed by guns flowing in our streets, staining our hands, and stealing away the life of thousands of Americans each year, you are doing your job as elected officials in demanding action to this ongoing national tragedy.