By Gáibhin McGranaghan
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Up to 1,500 demonstrators took to the steps of the Capitol building yesterday evening to express their solidarity with the Brady Campaign and support for stricter federal regulations on the sale of firearms.
Continuing the role he has played since last month’s 26-hour gun control sit-in, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) acted as a master of ceremonies at the rally with House Democrats and families of gun violence victims in front of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. One particularly sensitive appeal came from Ohio mother Ebony Crosby, who lost her thirteen year-old daughter Italy to gun violence, giving an emotional recollection of how her home was targeted and how bullets shot through her kitchen window. “We need our community,” she said, “and we need to make sure that people who do have guns, don’t. We need more mentors for our youth.”
Although the rally itself was organised and chiefly staffed by the Brady Campaign, a plethora of like-minded organisations were assembled alongside it that evening, including Disarm Hate and the recently founded #BlackLivesMatters group.
Speaking to The Gown, the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence’s Executive Director Jason Lindsay stressed the need for individual citizens and grassroots advocacy groups alike in pressing Congress to implement swift and tangible changes in current gun laws, “not tomorrow, not a month from now, we need it to happen right now. It’s in the memory of people, like those we lost in Orlando that we have to create change.”
When asked on his confidence that a future administration under either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would make any meaningful strides in legislating for regulation, Mr. Lindsay expressed his hope in the former’s prospect, adding that “she has a strong history on behalf of advocacy of gun reforms and common sense gun reforms. I mean, so many of the NRA class believe that any attempt whatsoever to seriously address this topic is stripping them of their rights.”
Mr. Lindsay, an Iraq War veteran, continued to express his dismay with the now twelve year-long expiration of the federal assault weapons ban during the 109th Congress in 2004, arguing that “the people in the US don’t need the kind of weapon that I had in a warzone.”
The ban, signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 1994, prohibited up to 19 types of military-grade assault weapons. A clause directed that the ban expire unless Congress specifically reauthorized it, which it did not.
Counter-demonstrators also made their presence conspicuous during the evening’s events, with various groups of activists, individually averaging in octets, positioned themselves sporadically around the main crowd on the lawn of the Capitol building’s western façade. Banners featuring the historic ‘Dont [sic] Tread on Me’ Gadsden flag and explicit anti-regulation sloganed placards pointedly telegraphed their distinction from the other demonstrators, many of whom were clad in assorted Brady campaign, Disarm Hate and #BlackLivesMatter t-shirts.
Marylander Stephen James, unaffiliated with any gun rights organisation, criticised the Brady Campaign in robust terms, as well as condemning the Democrats’ proposals as “an infringement on the Second Amendment” and their sit-in last month following the Orlando Attacks as “a cheap publicity stunt.”
Mr. James took exceptional umbrage with the ‘no fly, no buy’ proposal, which would prevent any suspected terrorists on no-fly lists from buying firearms. “The terrorist watch-list, there’s a problem with it,” he said. “There’s no due process to find out if you’re on it, just as there’s none to get yourself off of it. There’s no way for you to know until you actually get on an airplane. It’s guilty before proven innocent, rather than innocent until proven guilty.”
Prominent Democratic politicians have been leading calls for the ‘no fly, no buy’ initiative, chief among them President Barack Obama, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Chris Dickison, a 19 year-old law and politics student at QUB from Lisburn interning with the Brady Campaign as part of the Washington Ireland Program, was also present at the rally. “I think tonight was hugely encouraging,” he said, going on to observe the enormity of the turnout for the evening’s demonstration. When asked what such feelings might spell for later political developments, Mr. Dickison candidly ventured that “Just as the NRA has made it a single issue for its own supporters, the 92 percent of the public who support expanding background checks will have that high up on their agendas when casting their Congressional and Presidential votes in November. Turnouts like tonight show that very clearly.”