Congressman Frank Pallone brings sit-in against gun violence to New Brunswick
Hoping to recreate the “sit-in” arranged by his fellow Democratic congressmen last week, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) invited his constituents to cram into his small office in downtown New Brunswick to discuss gun control.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Washington lawmaker gave his thoughts on the renewed nation-wide debate on gun control legislation, and listened to comments from residents of New Jersey’s 6th congressional district, which he has represented since 1993.
“We keep thinking that at some point the magnitude of these mass shootings – not only the fact that they have become more frequent but more widespread in terms of how many people have been killed or shot – that at some point our country would kind of get to a breaking point if you will where the Republican leadership would put up these bills,” he said.
In the wake of the mass shooting in an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where 49 people were killed by a single gunman, Democratic officials in the House of Representatives, including Pallone, occupied the chamber’s floor for 25 hours in dissent and demanded that voting take place for gun safety legislation.
Pieces of legislation that the protesting congressmen wanted consideration for included the so-called, “No Fly, No Buy” bill, which would bar individuals on the government’s no-fly list from purchasing guns and an expansion of background checks for gun transactions. Both polices are supported by a majority of Americans, according to a CNN/ORC poll.
The “sit-in” ultimately failed to persuade House Speaker Paul Ryan, who considered the demonstration nothing more than a “publicity stunt.”
Pallone labeled Ryan as “the ultimate coward” and suggested that the Republican leader’s inaction stems from fear of an uprising from the more right-winged members of his party. The New Jersey congressman is certain most of the proposed bills would pass with bipartisan support if given the chance.
Susan Higgins, an emergency room nurse in the Robert Wood Johnson University hospital, offered to “put a face” on the gun control discussion between Pallone and his constituents. She said gun violence has escalated in New Brunswick as knives have taken a back seat in the city’s crime scene.
“I’ve seen seven-year-olds come in – caught in the crossfire of you know either gang battles or (because) somebody got mad and they missed,” she said.
Higgins, a former member of the National Rifle Association, believes most gun owners, including many of her family members, would support gun control policies if the narrative presented to them was not simply that someone was “going to come and take (their) guns away.”
Pallone said this narrative on gun control, which he primarily attributed to the NRA, is “non-sense” and not grounded on factual data. This has been facilitated by a congress who has obstructed research on the issue for the past 20 years, he said.
The president of New Jersey Nurses Association, Norma Rodgers, stressed the fact that gun violence is a “public health crisis.” She said congress should allow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a substantial study on it.
“I think when people really see the numbers and see the data, it may open more eyes,” she said.
Zach LaPorte, a Rutgers alumnus, supports expanded background checks and a “No Fly, No Buy,” bill, but he questions the effectiveness of actions like the “sit-in” by Democratic lawmakers.
LaPorte said Republicans will never cave into the demands of Democrats when put in a “spotlight” such as the scene in Congress last week. He argued that officials on both parties are too preoccupied with being reelected by their electorates to make any sincere effort to compromise.
Citing the several shootings that have transpired near Rutgers-Newark this year, including the murder of a Rutgers student in April, Naomi Anacius, a graduate student in the School of Public Affairs and Administration, said she habitually thinks about the threat of gun violence.
“It’s scary to know that you are walking down the street and that anything can happen – even if you are surrounded by a community of students,” she said.
The majority of college students, including those at Rutgers, will only participate in the gun control debate or advocate for legislation if the issue becomes personal to them, Mahathi Pentavalli said. The School of Arts and Science junior believes gun violence has become somewhat of a norm in contemporary society.
“A lot of people don’t feel the need to act on it until it happens to them,” she said. “If you keep seeing it happening somewhere else, the reaction to act in your own environment is a lot different.”
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.