Arrest Gun-Loving Members of Congress—Not Grieving Fathers

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

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Last Thursday, my wife Patricia and I attended a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on gun policies. We did not go there to be arrested, but after we were kicked out of a hearing on gun legislation, I ended up with my face pushed against the hallway floor, arms wrestled behind my back while a team of Capitol Police handcuffed me. (One Republican legislator likened us to the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.)

Why I Shouted Down the President at the White House

After our son Joaquin was murdered in 2018—by a fellow student with an assault weapon while attending high school in Parkland, Florida—we founded a nonprofit, Change the Ref, to empower young people to fight for sane and safe gun policies. Since that time we have refused to be silent, particularly in the faces of the powerful, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re a Republican or a Democrat—they’ll hear our voices, as we demand to know why children in this country are no safer than they were after the Parkland shooting (or any of the many before and since).

Four days after my arrest, another school shooting happened in Nashville, Tennessee. This time three kids and three adults were fatally shot inside a Christian elementary school. At this point, our reasons for disrupting a congressional hearing—and our commitment to do it again, if necessary—is self-evident.

Joaquin was a brilliant, joyful kid, my best friend. But he also was an activist. When he was 12, he wrote a letter about the need to stop the insane levels of gun violence in the United States. Since Joaquin was murdered, Patricia and I have committed to giving voice to his “love for the world and knowledge” and to prevent other families from enduring what we have.

I’ve learned much about gun policies in my five years as a gun control activist, including my work with Global Action on Gun Violence, a nonprofit engaged in international action to end gun violence here and in the many countries armed with U.S. guns because of our weak laws.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed in the Parkland mass shooting, interrupts U.S. President Joe Biden as he delivers remarks at an event to celebrate the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act on the South Lawn of the White House on July 11, 2022 in Washington, DC.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Chip Somodevilla/Getty</div>

Today I understand that we don’t need to live like this. The rest of the world does not tolerate mass shootings and does not suffer from the levels of gun violence that we do.

There’s a reason why the gun homicide rate in the U.S. is more than 20 times higher than in Europe or Australia. The rest of the world knows that to keep people safe, you must strongly regulate guns. But in the U.S., gun companies sell military-style assault weapons to civilians, even teenagers. Firearms can be sold without even minimal checks in “private sales.” And there is no limit on the number of guns a person can buy.

Just how ridiculous are U.S. gun policies was illustrated by the title of the House subcommittee hearing I was attended before my arrest: “ATF’s Assault on the Second Amendment: When is Enough Enough?”

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The House of Representatives did not think “enough was enough” when 19 schoolchildren and two adults were killed with an assault weapon at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, or when almost 100,000 people lost their lives to gunfire in our country over the past two years. But at this hearing, they cast the gun industry and gun owners as victims of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms—a take so absurd that it would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.

ATF doesn’t do nearly enough to crack down on the gun industry. Gun dealers sell mass amounts of semi-automatics to obvious traffickers. Manufacturers allow these practices and willingly supply these dealers, knowing many are corrupt. ATF rarely recommends revoking dealer licenses, and public documents have revealed that in the rare cases when they do, that decision is often overruled.

The industry knows it can supply and profit off the criminal market with almost no chance of punishment. And those practices don’t just supply criminals in the U.S.; they provide the cartels in Mexico, who in turn ship fentanyl here and kill more of our children.

SCOTUS Pushed America a Huge Step Backward on Gun Safety, Just As Congress Was Finally Going to Act

The hearing we attended was a barrage of gun lobby lies aimed at distracting people from real solutions to save children like Joaquin. Subcommittee Chair Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX) had the nerve to cite Mexico’s strict gun laws and its high rate of gun crime as “proof” that gun laws don’t work, ignoring the fact that guns sold by U.S. dealers and trafficked over the border help drive Mexico’s violence. When Patricia called him out on his false statement, Rep. Fallon ordered her to be thrown out. After I defended her, I was also removed. Minutes later I was handcuffed on the floor of a hallway in the Capitol, en route to the Capitol Police detention center for a mugshot, fingerprinting, and several hours locked up in a cell.

But I committed no crime. Those that did were the members of Congress who grovel at the feet of the gun lobby, who refuse to hold the gun industry accountable for its shoddy business practices, and who refuse to protect all of us from gun violence.

Monday’s school shooting in Nashville won’t be the last. Innocent people will die while our politicians endorse an ambitious gun industry. The question is whether we should disrupt their behavior or not. I say we do.

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