With a patriotic red, white and blue pinwheel in her hair and festive Fourth of July paint from Monday’s holiday still fresh on her left arm, Lise Bruneau took her burning desire to see government action on gun violence to the lawn of the U.S. Capitol early Tuesday.
“Background checks save lives!” the 50-year-old Northeast Washington resident chanted, thrusting a sign that read “NRA Enough” into the air.
She was one of dozens of parents who protested what they consider inaction by Congress to pass legislation to curb gun violence.
The group of mostly Capitol Hill residents grew to 125 people as it marched along East Capitol Street from Lincoln Park to the Capitol. Many said they were angry about June’s mass shooting that killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando but were also buoyed by a sit-in by Democrats 10 days later on the House floor.
The families, flanked by their children, gathered at sunrise in the park. Kids sat on sidewalks still damp from overnight showers as they created protest signs with markers. The group was demanding measures that would lead to background checks of all firearm transfers and end a ban on public health research on guns.
The crowd — joined by D.C. Council members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) — moved from the park toward the Capitol, shutting down the street, as members chanted: “Listen to the children, not the NRA” and “D.C. for gun safety.” Several onlookers joined in as the protesters passed.
Gun violence “is something that should be in every D.C. resident’s mind,” said Christian Nouvel, as he pushed his two children in a stroller displaying a sign that said, “More bubbles, less bullets.”
“It’s very frustrating to not see very reasonable legislation make it into law,” he said.
Bruneau, who marched with her 8-year-old son, said she has been outraged since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, when she said she was sure Congress would act on measures such as universal background checks. She expressed joy at seeing the sit-in in the House, which seemed to her like a turning point.
“To call it a publicity stunt is disrespectful,” she said. “But it’s also not a bad thing to get publicity over something so important.”
Because the District lacks a vote in Congress, many of the families saw their ability to have a physical presence at the Capitol as a way to make their voices heard.
“We feel a little disempowered, given that we have no vote,” said Laura Brown, one of the organizers of the march. “We live literally in the shadow of the Capitol.”
Brown and a group of other parents formed D.C. Moms and Dads for Rational Gun Safety Legislation after the Democrats’ House sit-in June 22 and 23. They organized Tuesday’s march last week, using Facebook to spread the word, and encouraged parents from across the District to join the effort.
She said many parents in the District are concerned about the possibility of gun violence affecting their families.
It is not right that people live in fear of gun violence erupting in public places where people gather for fun, Brown said. “I feel like we’re just all sitting, waiting on something to happen,” she said.
At the Capitol, the group was met by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting House member, who urged the families in their 20 minutes on the Hill to keep fighting for gun legislation.
“The gun enthusiasts depend on us to go away,” she told the group. “If we stop, the other side wins.”
Later Tuesday, a separate group of about eight gun-control protesters attempted a sit-in in the Capitol Rotunda. At 12:30 p.m., a U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman said six of the eight protesters were arrested and charged with demonstrating in an area not designated for protests. Police escorted the remaining two protesters out of the building.
Nardyne Jeffries, whose 16-year-old daughter died in 2010 after being shot in the District in a drive-by shooting, called on Congress to pass legislation banning assault rifles.
“Children have the right to grow up and grow old in a First World country,” she said at the protest.