Congresswoman Julia Brownley: Why I joined the House sit-in
There seems to be a script. Each incidence of gun violence is followed by outrage, heartbreak, a moment of silence, a muddying of the waters by cable show pundits and then … nothing. Whether motivated by hate, a result of mental illness, driven by extremism, racism, or as a domestic dispute — the why varies but the response remains the same.
From Isla Vista to San Bernardino, Blacksburg, Killeen, Newtown and most recently Orlando, these tragedies, and far too many others, leave an indelible mark on us all. The victims have been children, college students, members of our armed services, and young gay men and women who simply wanted to dance in what they believed was a safe and welcoming environment.
Gun violence has plagued our communities for too long and has become so numbing that we sometimes don't even know where to begin to find solutions. According to the Brady Campaign, we lose 89 lives to gun violence every day. On average, 108,000 Americans are shot each year and 32,500 of them are killed.
In our own community I've gotten to know Tim Heyne from Thousand Oaks, who lost his wife and his best friend in 2005 when a mentally unstable man with a known history of violence opened fire on all three of them. He and his son Christian, forever altered by the tragedy, have turned to advocating for legislation that would curb gun violence.
Last year, I met Thousand Oaks resident Bob Weiss, the father of Veronika Weiss. Veronika, an athlete and aspiring financial wizard, was killed during the horrific shooting of UC Santa Barbara students in Isla Vista. Bob was in my office to talk about legislation that would make it more difficult for the shooter who killed his daughter to have such easy access to a gun. Bob carried his daughter's ashes with him to Washington for these meetings so that people better understood his loss and that of every parent who loses a child to gun violence. I'll never forget that encounter.
I support the Second Amendment, as do my colleagues, but I — along with the vast majority of the American people — support common-sense legislation aimed at reducing gun violence in our nation. From universal background checks, to stopping would-be terrorists from attaining guns, to keeping guns out of the hands of individuals with serious mental illness — the American people want action.
And yet, House Speaker Paul Ryan refuses to even allow legislation to come to the floor for debate and a vote. It is unconscionable, but as long as he is Speaker, he controls the legislative agenda.
But he does not control my ability to speak out. He does not control the ability of John Lewis to speak out. And he does not control the right of members of Congress from across the nation, especially those whose communities have suffered so much, to speak out, to protest and to encourage the American people to pressure him to do the right thing.
Enough is truly enough.
So, we staged a sit-in. John Lewis staged many sit-ins when he was fighting for civil rights reform. It got attention, it shifted the dialogue. People listened and eventually, Congress acted.
It was a very emotional 26 hours. Hearing my colleagues talk about the families from their districts, who were torn apart and forever changed by gun violence in their communities, was one of the most poignant moments of my time in public service.
After those 26 hours, just before day break, we walked down the Capitol steps to be met by hundreds of people gathered there to show their support.
As I walked into the crowd, I was greeted by Christian Heyne. The tragedy that took his mother's life led him to Washington to fight for change and to the steps of the Capitol at the same moment.
We were both overcome with emotion, we hugged, and we promised each other that we would continue to fight for our loved ones, for our community, and for our nation.