WASHINGTON — Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) led almost all of the House Democrats down the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday for a brief event to respond to the Las Vegas shooting massacre, asking those gathered, “How many more must die?”
“How many more dead bodies will it take to wake up this Congress?” Lewis asked, with fellow Democrats standing next to him along with former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot at a constituent event in Tucson in 2011.
“What will move this Congress to act?” he asked. “We hold moments of silence and vigils, and offer our thoughts and prayers, and it is all a show or placeholder until people forget.”
He suggested that has allowed a GOP-controlled Congress to roll back gun restrictions.
“Don’t tell me otherwise. I have been away too long,” he said. “I lost colleagues in Mississippi and Alabama to gun violence. We lost Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to a man with a rifle. We lost Senator Robert Kennedy to a man with a handgun. We have seen too many gun deaths and I am here to say right now, ‘This must stop, and it must stop now.'”
Just across the street, about a 100 members of groups like Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety clapped and held signs calling for legislation to restrict access to firearms.
Gifford spoke briefly, telling those gathered, “Be bold. Be courageous. The nation is counting on you.”
Last year. Lewis was among the Democrats who led a sit-in on the floor of the House in response to the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, demanding that Congress take action.
After Wednesday’s event, Lewis said that it was undetermined what further shows of protest that they would take in response to the Las Vegas shootings.
“We will regroup as a group and as a Democratic caucus and we will not give up on any possible non-violent protests,” he told Variety.
Authorities said that 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured when a gunman opened fire on a country music festival Sunday evening in Las Vegas. The assailant was perched in a 32nd floor room of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Police say he killed himself before they reached him.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for the formation of a select committee to investigate mass shootings and gun violence and to come up with bipartisan solutions. So far, House GOP leadership has not acted on the proposal.
“I have not heard anything, not one word, from any of my Republican colleagues, that they are prepared to deal with the political issue of guns or gun violence in America,” Lewis said.
Lewis also said that he invited House Speaker Paul Ryan to the event.
“I had a conversation a few nights ago with the Speaker about participating in a bipartisan way with what we did today, and he said, ‘Will it deal with policy and legislation?’ And I said, ‘That is what we would like to see.’ And he said he couldn’t participate.”
In the wake of the shooting massacre, Ryan on Tuesday called for more attention devoted to issues of mental health.
At the event, though, Lewis said, “Don’t tell me we need mental health reform when you won’t provide every American access to mental health care.”
Later on Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that she introduced legislation to ban so-called “bump stock” devices, which enable gun owners to convert semi-automatic rifles into an automatic weapons, which are illegal.
She said that she never thought that she would see the type of carnage that was seen in Las Vegas, and recalled the shootings in 1978 of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Feinstein announced their deaths that day, and succeeded Moscone as mayor.
“I know what guns can do,” she said. “This is taking it into war.”
She was joined at a press conference by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Blumenthal said that the bill is just one of the measures that Democrats plan to introduce in the coming weeks, including a ban on semi-automatic weapons.
Feinstein said that her daughter was going to go the the Las Vegas country music festival but ultimately decided not to attend.
“That’s how close it came to me. I just thank God,” Feinstein said.