Twenty children were murdered at Sandy Hook, 14 people were killed in San Bernardino and five police officers were assassinated by a sniper in Dallas last week. Following every one of those tragedies (and other mass shootings in between), Democrats in Congress proposed common-sense gun measures such as expanded background checks that would extend to online sales and sales at gun shows, and every time their Republican colleagues blocked their efforts.
“I don’t think they were ever going to do anything,” Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi told Billboard on Tuesday (July 12) about Republicans’ plans to consider those changes and a so-called “no fly, no buy” provision that would bar suspected terrorists on the no-fly list from purchasing weapons. “Ninety percent [of voters say they support] ‘no fly, no buy’ and 85 percent say [yes to] expanded background checks to include gun shows and Internet purchases,” Pelosi added.
Just moments before boarding a plane to Dallas, where she and President Obama would comfort the families of the five slain officers, Pelosi held forth on why gun legislation keeps getting blocked in Congress, what the average citizen can do, and why “this is not going away.”
The House just voted to kick any gun legislation until after the summer recess. This comes after last Thursday’s killing of five police officers. Is that an affront to their deaths, that no legislation will be thought of until after the summer break?
I don’t think it’s an affront to the families. I don’t think they [Republicans] were ever going to do it. I think having a moment of silence when so many people have died in mass murders and so many people die every night of gun violence — which could be avoidable — is the affront. That moment of silence is important, we want to pay our respects and bow our heads, but silence and no action is the affront. That’s why you saw our members initiate the sit-in, because they said, “Never again are we going to have a moment of silence without taking some action to call attention to the fact that this violence can be prevented.”
I don’t think they were ever going to do anything. They can’t even get the votes together for their own bad bill, which was written by the NRA, the gun lobby… their people didn’t even want to do that, which was a step backwards. They didn’t want to be a part of any gun bill.
You’re traveling to Dallas today with President Obama to honor those officers. What can you say to their families when they ask why nothing has been done?
I think the families are in a state of grief, and we have to respect that. We are coming there to pay our respects and extend our sympathies, and the president will do that for the American people. I don’t think they’re going to be having a discussion of legislation. I think we’re just going to be having a prayerful time of sympathy and condolences for the families. But other families who have been affected by gun violence have spoken out, have stood on the steps of the Capitol, come to the gallery in the House, have spoken out in their communities — no more silence, we want action, we want legislation passed. And those families have channeled their grief into energy so that it doesn’t happen to other families. An assault on a police force is a terrible thing. I think everybody in America shares that grief, and we share the grief of other victims of gun violence as well.
From what we’re hearing initially is that the guns [used by the Dallas shooter] were purchased via gun show or online, which is exactly what our legislation would have prevented. The expansion of the background check legislation would expand the background check to gun shows and online purchases, and that’s all the legislation would do, but it would save so many lives. That’s a legislative discussion the American people have weighed in on — 90 percent say “no fly, no buy” and 85 percent say expand background checks to include gun shows and Internet purchases.
If 90 percent of America agrees on expanding background checks before gun purchases and barring people on terror watch lists from buying guns, why can’t we pass that? Isn’t that the definition of the people’s will?
It is, and that just goes to show you how it’s sad to say that the gun lobby is a major part of the Republican Party in our country. That doesn’t mean that Republicans in our country support that. Overwhelmingly, Republicans, gun owners, even NRA members support the background-check legislation and the “no fly, no buy,” but the Republicans in Congress [are a] wholly owned subsidiary of the gun industry, and it is an industry and it is about money. And they hide behind the Second Amendment, which we support, but they are doing so for a financial gain and at the expense of American lives.
We would hope that the Speaker would bring up a bill that we could pass, legislation that does the job, and that we take this off the table and it’s not a conversation in the election. But the Speaker himself has said, “If you want to vote on guns, win the election.” Hopefully we don’t have to take it to that place, and we would have some legislation before then, but until we do, we are not going away.
We’ll talk about it tomorrow, we’ll talk about it the next day. We have a speak-out on Thursday, we’ll talk about it during the [summer] break. The Republicans have to know we’re not going away until this is done, because this is non-partisan, it’s necessary, and there is a solution.
The filibuster is three weeks behind us, and it’s sad to say it this way, but there hasn’t been a mass shooting for a few days. What can people do to keep this issue front and center in between mass shootings?
To say we haven’t had one since Thursday just tells you how sad the situation is. Since Newtown, there have been much more than 1,000 mass shootings [defined as 4 or more people killed]… that’s an incredible number. In addition to that, every day 91 people die from gun violence. That’s why last week on the steps of the Capitol, we had 91 people dressed in orange, the color of the anti-gun violence movement. The violence continues, whether it’s high-profile or in your neighborhood with one person, but nonetheless the cumulative effect is terrible.
What we’re doing is keeping it front and center, and the best messengers and most eloquent spokespersons are the family members who have been affected. In addition to that, the voices against violence — the celebrity voices — and I thank you and I thank Billboard for the letter that you published with all those signatures, because they attract attention. When people are willing to use their celebrity, their fame, the power to attract that they have for a purpose that they feel committed to the authenticity of their concern can do so much more — certainly much more than any elected officials can do in terms of attracting people in the first place — and then that amplifies the voices of the families and gives them comfort that they are not alone and their concerns are being echoed in a very major way.
How can citizens break this allegedly iron grip the NRA has on so many members of Congress to get some gun legislation passed?
I think that’s it’s really important, and I say this all the time, nothing is more eloquent to a member of Congress than the voice of his or her own constituents. When famous people speak out about it and say to the average person — and Rep. John Lewis said this is our goal — that the average Joe, that could be J-O, or J-O-E, knows what she or he can do and knowing their power they have to be calling their members of Congress, so the people here hear from people in their districts. It doesn’t matter if a million people from the coasts say “we want this.” It matters if 1,000 people in their individual districts wherever they live say this matters to them. Or even 100 voices.
They had a poll today — “What would be four things that would change your vote?” — and one was the “no fly, no buy.” Who had ever heard of it a while back in terms of the general public? And now they’re saying that’s one of the issues that would be dispositive of their vote.
Is the threat of voters demanding action on gun legislation at the ballot box stronger, or can it be stronger, than the NRA’s power over some in Congress?
I guess we’ll find out, but some of the members on the Republican side have said, “I understand your point, but one thing that could defeat me in my district is if I were to vote for any gun violence prevention legislation.” They have a strong voice, but [the NRA is] not really dealing honestly with the American people. They know that we’re not there to take away their guns, but they use extreme rhetoric that is not true. Anybody who is a responsible gun owner is not afraid of a background check, especially just expanding it to gun shows and online. It’s not anything drastic from what is there now, except for some recognition of technology and gun shows.
Have you considered more directly confrontational tactics? Like using graphic photos in the same way pro-lifers have, but in this case of the children murdered at Newtown or confronting the Congress people who have accepted the most money from the NRA and showing them to the American people?
It’s really important to note that when we have these families speak out, it’s very hard for them. They bring pictures of their family members, and we will have pictures on the Capitol steps tonight of the people who died in Orlando… but it’s very hard. Those pictures are seen by families as well as by those who are trying to persuade, so it’s harder than you might think. George Bernard Shaw said the sign of a truly intelligent person… is that [he or she is] persuaded by statistics. The statistics are so overwhelming, and every one of them is a life.
There’s something really sick about the fact that the Republicans in Congress are so beholden to the National Rifle Association when they know what we are proposing has no infringement on the Second Amendment and does not curtail the rights of people who are not on the no-fly list or not in other way catch some not appropriate to be selling a gun to. It’s a big challenge. The empowerment of the people is a really important part of it and for people to be empowered have to know power and the celebrity voices help them know their power to write directly to their Congress person to say that this just happened. The one thing that is different now is that people are resolute. This is not going away. We are going to be here until change happens. To us it’s inevitable, to them it’s inconceivable and we have to shorten the distance between the inevitable and the inconceivable.