Peter Welch Joins House Democrats' Sit-In Demanding Action On Gun Legislation

Jun 22, 2016

Starting Wednesday morning, U.S. House Democrats staged a rare sit-in on the House floor to demand action on gun violence. Vermont Rep. Peter Welch was among those that participated, and spoke to VPR Wednesday afternoon from the cloakroom off the House floor.

"We had a discussion among a few of us last night," Welch said of the sit-in, "and this thing has just expanded into something that I think really reflects the enormous frustration the American people have with the inability of Congress to even have a discussion about common-sense gun legislation."

Watch the live stream from the House floor.

Welch says there have been "over 30 moments of silence in Congress," including, most recently, Orlando.

"But every moment of silence has been follow by complete and utter inaction: no hearings in committees, no discussion or debate on the floor, no bills to vote on," he says.

Welch says there are two things the group of Democrats are hoping to achieve with today's sit-in.

"We're really calling on the Republican majority — Speaker [Paul] Ryan — to put on the floor for our vote two bills," Welch explained. "One, if you're on the no-fly list because you're a terror suspect, you cannot go buy a gun. And number two, we want to expand the background checks and get rid of the gun show loophole."

Welch says both bills have "significant bipartisan support" and "huge support across the country."

But, he says, "what we've had here in Congress is a complete and utter lockdown, an impenetrable barrier of opposition to even having Congress discuss common sense provisions."

But despite lawmakers' efforts, when Welch spoke with VPR Wednesday afternoon the group had had "no reaction" from Speaker Paul Ryan to their demands.

"This is really unprecedented," Welch said of the sit-in. "I am just astonished to see this. This is my tenth year here and I have never seen such a spontaneous eruption."

Welch says the morning started with a few people on the floor, and eventually grew to over 100.

"There have probably been 20 senators who have come over from the Senate to join us in the sit-in," h e says. "Every member is standing up and giving a speech."

Both of Welch's peers in the Vermont delegation, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Sen. Bernie Sanders, voiced their support for the sit-in.

The Senate, also controlled by Republicans, shut down four gun control measures earlier this week. Welch says that the Republican control makes it "tough" to succeed in getting these measures out of Congress.

"In all candor, with the current composition of Congress, I wouldn't predict it," Welch said. "It's astonishing to me that the NRA has literally its heel on the throat of the process here."

But Welch isn't giving up.

"What I know is that we can't be passive about it, we've got to resist," Welch said. "We've got to do everything we can. We've got to give this a fight."

With the sit-in has come a call to hold off on a recess scheduled for Friday until these bills make it to the floor, with members and supporters posting on social media using the hashtag #NoBillNoBreak. Procedurally speaking, Welch says delaying the recess is unlikely.

"I don't think we can [delay the recess]. I think the Speaker has the ability to have us go into recess," Welch says. "We're calling on the Speaker to put these bills on the floor, let us vote on them."

"This is a puzzle to me, frankly, because I think if the Speaker put these bills on the floor you'd see broad support." — Rep. Peter Welch

"The reality is there's a number of my Republican colleagues who are totally in support of common-sense gun legislation. They know that you can balance legitimate Second Amendment rights with legitimate public safety rights," Welch says.

He continues: "This is a puzzle to me, frankly, because I think if the Speaker put these bills on the floor, you'd see broad support." 

Welch says putting the bills to a vote would reassure people "that the process was at least responding to what I think is a growing crisis."