It is common after a major shooting event — really common, given how many major shooting events America has — for Congress to recognize the victims with a moment of silence. Yesterday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan motioned for a moment of silence for the Orlando shooting victims.
But some of his colleagues weren’t having it.
According to the Washington Post, after the moment of silence, the Speaker tried to get back to business as usual, but many Democratic Representatives had other ideas. Some walked out, while others started talking. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) came to the well to ask about the status of various pieces of gun control legislation. As Speaker Ryan tried to ignore him, there were shouts and hisses from the assembled Democrats who really, really wanted to stop with all the silence and talk about how to stop being the country where 33,000 people per year die of gunshot wounds. (For a more detailed breakdown of firearm deaths in the US, please refer to Table 18 in the CDC National Vital Statistics Reports.)
Social media, predictably, exploded. On one side, you had people who felt that yelling and/or leaving the House chamber was disrespectful to the dead. On the other hand, you had people like Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT), whose district borders Newton, CT, tweeting, “I will not attend one more "Moment of Silence" on the Floor. Our silence does not honor the victims, it mocks them.” Himes was later quoted as calling these moments of silence “obnoxious expressions of smug incompetence.”
Got some aloe for that burn, Mr. Speaker?
Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-MA) had more strong words, saying, “If the LGBT community has taught us anything, it’s that silence is the enemy of progress. I refuse to take part in a moment of silence by a Congress that takes part in empty gestures rather than do something — anything — that could actually prevent these horrific acts from happening. We can’t reduce gun violence with silence.”
She’s right. We can’t reduce gun violence with silence.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who remained on the Floor during the moment of silence, summed up her caucus’s feelings nicely. “The moment of silence is an act of respect, and we supported that,” Pelosi told the AP. “But it is not a license to do nothing.”