After nine of Maryland’s 10 congressional members participated in the June 22 Democratic sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives, some Republicans decried the move as a “stunt.”
The three Republican candidates running for the House districts that include Montgomery County all said they opposed the sit-in, though they varied on what to do to prevent future mass shootings.
Democrats, led by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), protested Republican leaders not calling for a vote on any gun control bills after four of those bills died in the Senate.
Local Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-8), John Delaney (D-6) and John Sarbanes (D-3) all joined their Democratic colleagues on the House floor last week, along with Sens. Ben Cardin (D) and Barbara Mikulski (D).
The Republican challengers running against Delaney and Sarbanes, the two incumbents seeking re-election, both said they opposed the sit-in.
In the sixth district, Amie Hoeber (R) decried the sit-in as “a kindergarten stunt.”
“I don’t think that that accomplished anything. I think that was another demonstration of the Congress acting foolish and not responding to the needs of the people,” she said. “I understand the objective here of people here who were sitting in but they lost the vote (in the Senate).”
Hoeber added that “college kids do sit-ins” and elementary school students “do their equivalent of sit-ins.”
Lewis conducted sit-ins to protest racial segregation in restaurants and other public accommodations during the 1960s.
“Well, I think he was doing something he had done successfully before but that was done in a different context,” said Hoeber. “He had not had the responsibility that he has in Congress today.”
Hoeber said gun control is “primarily” a states issue.
“In general, I believe that the existing laws are adequate and should be enforced,” said Hoeber.
On the federal level, enforcement is handled by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), who handle gun trafficking.
They have repeatedly requested more funding in order to enforce existing gun laws.
“I would like to see what the ATF recommendations have been and ask them why they made those recommendations and make my own judgment on that,” said Hoeber, adding she would pursue asking the ATF for their recommendations if she’s elected.
During his speech on the House floor June 22, Delaney questioned when “one faction of one party in one body in the Congress of the United States start believing that it could entirely control the agenda of the Congress and undermine the will of the American people?”
He then took a shot at the National Rifle Association for threatening and bullying congressional members.
“When have so few gotten in the way of the will of so many? And that is exactly what is happening on this issue,” he said, later adding Americans “by large majorities” are saying Congress “should do something on this issue.
Delaney later added, ““We’re drawing a line in the sand and we’re saying today it stops because the business of this House is not resuming until we bring to the floor the bill that the majority of the American people want us to address.”
Running in the third district against Sarbanes, Dr. Mark Plaster (R) called the sit-in a “political stunt.”
“Well first off, the sit-ins were specifically in the civil rights movement aimed so that every American had the right to sit in at a restaurant,” he said, adding the Democratic sit-in “discouraged dialogue.”
“The House of Representatives is for reasonable people to present their views and they didn’t have the votes and they didn’t like that they didn’t have the votes and so they demonstrated. And it didn’t make any sense,” he said, equating the two-day protest to the “childish behavior of men who could have engaged in adult conversation on this.
“And if you don’t have the votes, you don’t have the votes.”
Plaster, an emergency room doctor, said weapons should be restricted from “crazy people and terrorists.”
He defined “crazy people” as people “who are mentally unstable.”
Referring to the shooter in the June 12 Orlando gay nightclub massacre, which left 49 people dead and 53 injured, Plaster said if the FBI should have been empowered “to either prevent him from getting a weapon or to remove the weapons he had based upon legal evidence that was presented” after previously tracking him.
Taking away guns, knives and other weapons from people who are mentally unstable is a matter of personal and public safety, he said.
“We protect them from themselves and we protect others from them. They haven’t committed any crimes. We take away the instruments of harm from them,” said Plaster.
If someone’s talking about killing people or is part of an organization advocating violence, Plaster said family members and mental health professionals can present evidence to a judge who then rules whether the person’s weapons “would be removed.”
“First off, most of these would probably be at the state level and not the federal (level),” he said, adding he would bring attention to the issue through advocacy rather than federal mandates.
“I don’t think we could mandate that states do it but it would start the discussion,” he said.
He said prohibiting people on the federal no-fly list is “a very insensitive way to do this.”
“There’s no due process for going on the no-fly list,” he said. “I’m not even sure people know they’re on the no-fly list.”
Plaster added, “I can’t deprive them of other civil rights as well.”
He said taking guns away from people is “would be a function of local law enforcement” and also dismissed the concept of a national gun database.
“I’m not sure there needs to be a federal tracking of every weapon because the weapons aren’t the problem, the people are the problem,” he said, later adding, “There are lots of different ways to prevent harm but I think the most efficient way is to look at the people most likely to harm other people.”
On the floor of the House, Sarbanes referred to his “classmate,” former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who survived a gunshot to the head during a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson that left six people dead and 13 injured.
“All we are trying to do Mr. Speaker is get a vote. That’s all we’re trying to do. We’re trying to do our job. The only job that you have really is to bring a vote to the floor,” he said to Ryan, who was not in the Chamber at the time.
With Lewis sitting to his left and looking up, Sarbanes cited the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“He once said, ‘Somewhere, I heard the God of the universe saying, I was hungry and you fed me not.’ There are people in this country who are hungry for common-sense measures to address their grieving and their pain.
Is that going to be the legacy of Paul Ryan? That a grieving mother in Sandy Hook was hungry and you fed me not?’ That a parent in Atlanta who is heartbroken today will say, ‘That I am hungry and you fed me not.’ All we are asking is for a vote.
He went on to cite public support for universal background checks before purchasing firearms.
“They know if you’re too dangerous to fly on an airplane, you’re too dangerous to have a gun,” said Sarbanes.