Clyburn, House Democrats vow to continue gun control fight after 7-week recess

House Democrats hold a national ‘speak-out’ on the path forward on gun control at the U.S. Capitol on July 14, 2016.
House Democrats hold a national ‘speak-out’ on the path forward on gun control at the U.S. Capitol on July 14, 2016. McClatchy

Continuing the role he has played since last month’s 26-hour gun control sit-in, Rep. Jim Clyburn acted as a master of ceremonies at an evening rally with House Democrats and families of gun violence victims in front of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.

After greeting the sign-waving crowd of gun control advocates, the South Carolina Democrat asked for a moment of silence for the victims of Thursday’s attacks in Nice, France. He spent the rest of the event introducing the speakers, guiding them to the podium and directing the crowd.

When the sun set and it became too dark for the speakers to read, he stood behind them and used his cellphone flashlight to illuminate their notes.

As long as I have strength in my body I'm going to do my part to do what I can.

Rep. John Lewis, R-Ga.

“It’s easier to get a gun in America than a voting card,” shouted Rev. William Barber, who leads North Carolina’s branch of the NAACP. “That’s immoral. That’s insane.”

He referred to the shooting in Clyburn’s hometown of Charleston, saying the nine victims who were killed at Emanuel AME Church “deserved more than a flag to come down. They deserved more gun laws to come up.”

Two survivors of the Charleston shooting, Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard, were among the speakers, as was the widow of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was a friend of Clyburn’s.

Standing with her two young daughters, Jennifer Pinckney asked lawmakers opposing gun control to think about their own families.

Clementa Pinckney, where are you? Because of what happened that evening, a father, a husband, is not by our side.

Jennifer Pinckney

“Something has to be done,” she said. “No one else should lose a husband. No one else should lose a father.”

Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, started the momentum for the sit-in following the June 12 mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub that left 49 dead by demanding that House Speaker Paul Ryan bring gun control legislation for a vote. In the protests and rallies that have followed, he has often let Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., make the more high-profile speeches while organizing in the background.

With the House about to adjourn for a long seven-week recess, due to the conventions adding on to the traditional August break, the rally was meant to highlight that the gun control legislation pushed by House Democrats had not been brought to a vote. These included bills to ensure comprehensive background checks, 'no fly, no buy’ to block people on the terror watch list from buying guns, closing the Charleston loophole and barring firearm sales to hate crime offenders.

On Thursday, House Democrats seemed to take a more long-term view on the issue in the face of the long recess.

“The sit-in was just the beginning,” Lewis promised the crowd, who responded with cheers. While Lewis insisted that they would never give up, and supporters should not either, he said that the issue would be decided by voting gun advocates out of office and not only by passing legislation.

“We will not leave, we will not be satisfied, we will not be patient until we get legislation passed to deal with gun violence,” Lewis said. “So I say to you, on election day, all across our country we must get out and vote like we’ve never voted before. The vote is precious; it’s almost sacred. We must use it. Don’t stay home. We can do it and we will win.”

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen