Standing Room Only

Author: Rev. Steven Martin

Rev. Steve Martin is an ordained Evangelical Methodist minister, Director of Communications for the National Council of Churches, and founding board member of The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.

Attending a Congressional hearing is always an interesting affair.  One-half celebrity gala, one-half theatre, and one-half information.  Yes, I’m aware that three halves don’t add up to a whole.  Perhaps that’s my point: there’s something amiss in most of the hearings that take place in the halls of Congress.

Most, except for the one I attended last week.

The hearing was held at the House Judiciary Committee, which was considering HR 8, a bill that would require universal background checks for gun purchases and would close most loopholes in current laws.  It doesn’t solve the gun violence problem, but it’s a good start. 

I took my time getting to the House the morning of the hearing.  It was a beautiful morning, unseasonably warm, and hearings like this are not well attended anyway, I thought.  

I thought wrongly.  The hearing room was filled to overflowing!  Dozens of people stood in line to get in.  I joined the line and I heard that people could enter only when people left the room.  There was an overflow room upstairs and after waiting a while and deciding that, at the current rate, I might never get into the main hearing room, I headed there.  

It was also filled to capacity. Activists from across the country representing Moms Demand Action, Everytown, and March for Our Lives cheered whenever speeches in support of HR 8 were made, watching the action on a large TV screen projecting an image from the main room downstairs.  It was electric, and optimism filled the air.  Chairman Nadler cautioned those in the main room to not cheer in support of particular points of view, but his call did not seem to apply to those of us in the overflow room.  Our enthusiasm was evident.

As a speech concluded, the TV suddenly went silent, and a stern-looking woman stood in the middle of the room.  Like a scolded school-kid, I feared we, too, would be asked to be silent.  Madeleine Dean, Representative from Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District, spoke to the assembled crowd.  “Thank you,” she said, “and keep using your voices.”

Dean said that HR 8 was the first piece of legislation in ten years to curb gun violence. The time has come; indeed, it’s past time.

As I left the hearing room, Rep. Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis and friend of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute, passed by on her way to cast a vote. Her story, from losing a son to gun violence to holding a seat on the United States House of Representatives, should bring hope to all of us.  H.R. 8 passed the U.S. House of Representatives.  But now, an even greater challenge lies ahead in the U.S. Senate.  Let’s keep using our voices to bring about a sensible change in our gun laws.  H.R. is a reasonable beginning to curb the gun violence that plagues our nation.