Democratic Rep. Jim Himes Refuses To Stay Silent After Orlando Shooting
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Congressman Jim Himes is done holding back. He's a Democrat from Connecticut, and after the massacre in Orlando, Himes figured that eventually there would be a moment of silence on the House floor.
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JIM HIMES: Silence - that is what we offer in America that supports many of the things we could do to slow the bloodbath - silence - not me, not anymore.
MCEVERS: Himes said that yesterday. And later, House Speaker Paul Ryan stepped up to the podium.
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PAUL RYAN: The chair asks that the House now observe a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the terrorist attack in Orlando.
MCEVERS: Congressman Himes got up and walked out of the chamber. A few others left, too. Speaker Ryan hit the gavel to mark the end of the silence. And then this happened.
MCEVERS: Democrats yelled, where's the bill - talking about a bill that would prevent suspected terrorists from buying a gun. Others yelled, no leadership.
And Congressman Jim Himes joins us now. Thanks for being on the show.
HIMES: Happy to be here.
MCEVERS: So what happened after you walked out?
HIMES: Well, I guess what's a little more interesting is what happened before. I just - that same day, I learned Sunday of the murders in Orlando. I had come across Mark Barden at a film called "Newtown." Mark is the father of a seven-year-old who was killed at Sandy Hook.
And so I'm out standing there with Mark. I realized that the question was there, the question that is just so infuriating, which is, you know, when are you going to do something about this? We're going to stop talking for 10 seconds, and then will go back to talking about sports and dinner and Donald Trump and what have you.
I just thought at some point, that is perfectly emblematic of Congress' complete negligence on doing a bunch of things that we should do to try to reduce the bloody mayhem that happens in this country as a result of it being awash in guns.
MCEVERS: I guess I have to ask. If you think 10 seconds of silence won't do any good, will walking out of the room do any good?
HIMES: First of all, I wasn't trying to lead a crusade here. I didn't organize an effort. And I was very careful about it because the moment of silence in that context, to me, remains more of an affront to the victims of Orlando than honoring them. But look; if it is a sign of respect and if it makes other people feel better, you know, God bless; go ahead and do it.
However, what I do think we can do is we can start talking about this, particularly as Democrats. You know, we tend to use very technocratic policy language. We've got to start talking about this differently. I mean, let's use religious terminology. You know, let's ask the question.
What - you know, which we never ask by the way, you know? If Jesus Christ appeared in front of us tomorrow and this - you know, the man who said blessed are the peacemakers, the man who said turn the other cheek - you think he'd sign on for the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun? I want to hear my evangelical friends answer that question.
MCEVERS: How do you see the influence of the NRA?
HIMES: I take a slightly different view of the NRA than most. Most people think it's very powerful because it gives a lot of money. It does give a lot of money, but I don't think that's really the key. The problem with the NRA is perfectly encapsulated by Wayne LaPierre. He puts out this fantasy that people like me - and by the way, I support Second Amendment rights - that people like me are - we have a secret agenda to take away everybody's guns. And Wayne LaPierre promotes that, and he generates fear.
And of course, as we're seeing in our politics more broadly, fear, particularly at a time of uncertainty, is a very powerful motivating factor. So for me, the NRA is not so much about the money. It's more about understanding that if you scare enough Americans, you can influence the legislature. You can make my Republican colleagues think that if they are reasonable on guns, they're going to get primaried.
MCEVERS: We should just say, Wayne LaPierre is the head of the NRA. What kind of legislation would you propose on guns?
HIMES: We don't need to do a lot of work. There was a bill that received the votes of a majority of senators. It was known as the Manchin-Toomey Bill, and it mainly featured this idea of a universal background check. You know, no matter who you are - if you're at a gun show, online, you name it. We are going to do a background check. So I would put that at the front of the list.
I would absolutely have the hard discussion about what kinds of weapons we reserve for our military and our law enforcement. A lot of these mass shootings are being committed with AR-15s, which really were designed as weapons of war. I would say let's do something that, you know, most humans recognize as smart. Let's do some research on this. We're losing tens of thousands of Americans a year. Doctors and others say we have a huge public health crisis here.
And the Congress - get this - forbids the CDC and the federal government from doing research on the gun violence epidemic. So there's a lot of easy things that if we finally got some spine around here we could turn around.
MCEVERS: Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, thank you very much.
HIMES: Thanks, great to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.