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Michigan Dems join House sit-in to demand gun vote

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. House Democrats, including all five of Michigan’s delegation members, are conducting a sit-in Wednesday on the chamber’s floor in a bid to force a vote on a gun control measure.

Democrats said the sit-in, being led by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is an attempt to force the Republican-led House of Representatives to hold a vote on a gun control measure that has been blocked by GOP leaders in the wake of the high-profile Orlando shooting that killed 50 people.

It would prevent people who are listed on the federal “No-Fly” watch list for potential terrorists from buying guns in the wake of mass killings like the recent club shooting in Orlando, Florida.

Michigan Reps. Dan Kildee of Flint Township, Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, John Conyers of Detroit and Sander Levin of Royal Oak are participating in the sit-in, according to tweets and confirmations from their congressional offices.

“The American people have spoken up and so are we — #NoBillNoBreak! Congress must act on bipartisan #NoFlyNoBuy bill,” Kildee tweeted.

GOP leaders in the House responded to the protest from Democrats by declaring a recess, which forced cable networks like C-SPAN to shut off their cameras.

“C-SPAN has no control over the U.S. House TV cameras,” according to a tweet from the network as news of the sit-in spread.

Republicans have opposed the legislation because they say those on no-fly lists are merely under suspicion and have not been accused or convicted of crimes. They said there have been many instances of people mistakenly being put on the list, which takes a long time from which to get removed.

“In the year and six months I’ve been up here, I’ve stood up for about five moments of silence and then the gavel goes down and it’s back to business as usual,” Lawrence added in a telephone interview with The Detroit News.

She dismissed Republican complaints about the possibility of people being prevented from buying guns because they are mistakenly placed on the terror watch list. Lawrence said there is a review process already in place for people who feel they have been erroneously prevented from flying.

“Clearly if you’re on this list ... there’s some connection to you and terrorism,” she said.

Lawrence added that gun violence is a particularly burdensome problem in Michigan’s largest city.

“In Detroit, every single day someone is dying from gun violence,” she said, referring to the city in her 14th Congressional District. “We’re not telling the Republicans how to vote, we’re telling them to do their jobs.”

Omar Mateen, the alleged gunman who fired an assault rifle in the gay night club where 49 customers died, had twice been under federal investigation for possible ties to terrorism. He was eventually taken off the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s watch list after it was decided he had not broken any laws.

U.S. News and World Report said even when Mateen was on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database, he would not have been barred from buying a gun. He declared allegiance to the Islamic State in a call to police dispatchers on the night of the shooting before he was killed in a shootout with police.

A Republican House aide in the Michigan delegation dismissed the sit-in as “a political charade at its worst,” arguing the Democrats should try to get 218 signatures on a discharge petition to force a vote as happened earlier this session with a vote on reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.

The House GOP has long argued that former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, did not have an open voting process when the Democrats held the majority or let Republican initiatives come to the House floor for votes.

Democrats in the House said Republicans have left them no choice other than taking over the floor of the chamber to force a vote on guns.

“We cannot let the same old battles play out again,” Dingell said in a statement issued by her office. “We need to ensure that real change occurs by coming together on common-sense proposals — like expanding background checks and keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them in the first place, including suspected terrorists, dangerous felons and domestic abusers.”

Although the American Civil Liberties Union said it supports more federal regulation of guns, it remains opposed until the legislation is changed.

“Our nation’s watch-listing system is error-prone and unreliable 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,” ACLU officials Hina Shamsi and Chris Anders said this week in a statement.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing