Representatives Katherine Clark and Seth Moulton walked out on a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Orlando nightclub massacre, dramatically protesting a lack of progress on gun control.
Immediately afterward, representatives William Keating and Michael Capuano joined colleagues on the House floor, chanting, “Where’s the bill? Where’s the bill?”
And on Wednesday, senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey vented their own frustrations during a Democratic filibuster focused on Republican leaders’ refusal to consider gun-control bills.
“If we fail to act, the next time someone uses a gun to kill one of us, a gun that we could have kept out of the hands of a terrorist, the members of this Congress will have blood on our hands,” Warren said.
But beyond the strong words and symbolic protests, the members of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation say there is little they can do to advance gun-control measures in the Republican-controlled Congress.
The lack of action, widely decried by Democrats across the country, is particularly frustrating for the generally liberal Massachusetts delegation, which is one of the most uniformly supportive of tougher gun laws. All 11 Democrats consistently receive high marks from gun-control groups and failing grades from the National Rifle Association.
Clark said that Democrats, despite trying various parliamentary maneuvers, have been stymied at every turn by the Republican majority.
“In the final equation, they have math on their side, and Speaker Paul Ryan holds the gavel and, with that, comes incredible power not only to bottle up legislation, but to obstruct legislation,” Clark said.
John Rosenthal, cofounder of Stop Handgun Violence, a Newton-based group, argued the Massachusetts delegation has not been zealous enough in pushing for tougher gun bills, despite coming from a state with some of the strictest laws in the country.
“Nobody in our delegation has been willing to relentlessly take the lead, and it’s largely because they don’t think it will be successful, and it takes up too much political oxygen,” Rosenthal said. “The one exception has been Ed Markey. Ed Markey has been steadfast on this issue from the beginning.”
Moulton said that, after the Orlando attack, he talked privately to a group of 10 Republican and 10 Democratic colleagues about advancing what he considers “reasonable measures” — including legislation to expand background checks and to prevent people on terrorist watch lists from buying guns.
“There were a few members who clearly think we should do something, but everyone on the Republican side is scared,” Moulton said. “They’re scared of the NRA, they’re scared of the Tea Party, they’re scared of their own leadership. I guess they missed the definition of courage.”
Clark and Moulton both said their walkout reflected their disgust at Republican leaders’ refusal to consider new gun laws after mass shootings at Virginia Tech, Newtown, Conn., San Bernardino, Calif., Aurora, Colo., and other places.
“I just can’t sit by and have these moments of silence and have members of the House sending their heartfelt condolences after these horrific shootings, but then never acting,” Clark said. “I don’t see that as respectful. Inaction is a choice.”
Capuano said that because no bill is allowed on the floor without the express approval of the Republican leadership, Democrats have circulated a “discharge petition” to try to force a vote on the terrorism watch-list legislation.
But Democrats are about 30 signatures short of the 218 needed, he said, and the petition will succeed only if more Republicans sign on.
“I don’t see much likelihood of success in the future,” Capuano said. “But for those of us who believe in it, we can never give up, and we will have success over time.”
Representative James McGovern said he made a procedural motion to try force a vote on the bill on Tuesday, but his motion failed.
“I’m frustrated as hell,” McGovern said Wednesday. “We ought to keep trying, and trying, and trying, and keep the pressure up, and shame people if we have to do it.”
In the Senate, during Wednesday’s filibuster, Markey demanded that Republicans allow a vote on the watch-list bill.
“How hard is that?” Markey said. “No gun sales to potential terrorists in the United States. The NRA says no. The NRA said no the year before. The NRA controls the agenda of the United States Senate.”
Warren, in her speech, decried the partisan divide that has erupted following the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
“One side shouts, ‘It was a gun that killed all those people.’ The other side shouts, ‘It wasn’t a gun; it was a terrorist that killed all those people,’ ” Warren said. “And through all of the shouting, we miss what should be obvious. It was a terrorist with a gun that killed all those people, a terrorist with hate in his heart and a gun in his hand that killed all those people.”
Most Republican leaders have steadfastly opposed tighter gun control legislation.
However, Donald Trump, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, said Wednesday he will meet with the NRA to discuss legislation that would bar people who are on the terror watch list and the “no fly” list from purchasing guns.
In the House, Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, pointed out that the speaker has expressed concern about the constitutionality of banning gun sales to people on those lists.
“I think it’s very important to remember people have due-process rights in this country, and we can’t have some government official just arbitrarily put them on a list,” Ryan said on “CBS This Morning” in December, after the San Bernardino shooting. Ryan said Congress should instead focus on improving mental health policies.
Strong also criticized the handful of Democrats who walked out on Ryan’s moment of silence on Monday, saying on Twitter that it was “disheartening” a few members of Congress were “politicizing a moment of silence for victims of a terrorist attack.”
Moulton said he strongly disagrees.
“The people of Massachusetts didn’t send me to Washington to stand in silence,” he said. “They sent me to Washington to take action to keep my community safe. Clearly, thoughts and prayers aren’t working here. They’re not enough.”