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Empty chamber: Paul Ryan is going ghost on America

"Go ghost," v. To disappear by not calling, texting, or talking to a certain person.

As of Wednesday night, Democratic Rep. John Lewis is still leading a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives in pursuit of action by the House on gun control legislation. This pressure has been building since the mass shooting in Orlando, and mirrors the filibuster led by Sen. Chris Murphy in the Senate last week.

However, the simple reality is that Republican members of Congress are almost uniformly opposed to promoting the health and safety of Americans through limiting the essentially unfettered access to handguns and assault weapons. Sadly, the Senate demonstrated this earlier this week.

In the House, Speaker Ryan is "going ghost" not just on Americans as a nebulous collective but specifically on American children like Devon Quinn, a 3-year-old boy who was shot and critically injured in Chicago on Father's Day as he sat next to his father. The evidence is clear: Stronger gun laws save lives.

From a political perspective and in light of Lewis's sit-in, it is important to keep in mind that Ryan and his colleagues in the GOP leadership are going ghost not because they are openly opposed to sensible gun control. Going ghost is not just about dumping someone — it is about dumping them without the courtesy of a call or even a text.

So today, Ryan and his colleagues are going ghost because they won't even call American back. Following the horrific events in Orlando, the latest poll indicates strong support for stronger gun control laws. Fifty-five of respondents support stricter gun control laws, 37 percent strongly favor such laws, and only 23 percent strongly oppose such laws. Perhaps even more tellingly, 46 percent of respondents feel that "[g]overnment and society can take action that will be effective in preventing shootings like the one in Orlando from happening again."

But it takes two (chambers), right?

The Senate is only barely doing better. On Monday, the Senate voted on four amendments, by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Murphy (D-CT), and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The Republican-sponsored amendments were "second-order" amendments to the Democratic-sponsored amendments.

In any event, the votes held on these amendments were actually votes on whether to invoke cloture on each of these amendments. Accordingly, even though the amendments offered by Murphy, Cornyn, and Grassley each secured a majority (56, 53, and 53, respectively), none of them were considered further because none of them received the 60 votes for invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII.

Putting the details to the side, the simple point is that none of these votes were about the amendments, per se. Rather, they were procedural — this procedural step is normal in today's Senate, as invoking cloture essentially prohibits further filibusters on the amendment — and this demonstrates the problem members of both parties have on gun control: They seem to avoid at nearly any cost any real discussion of the issue.

To be clear, this is in spite of the fact that the most recent poll showed more than 90 percent of respondents support background checks for firearm sales. And this isn't new: Most Americans are not satisfied with the nation's gun laws.

It is simply ridiculous to assert that there is no support for a public discussion of how we can save children's lives from gun violence and make it more difficult for terrorists and criminals to get guns. Yet the House GOP leadership is trying to stymie such a discussion precisely because of what the poll results indicate: They don't want to have to vote in favor of gun violence and against limiting criminals' access to firearms.

Note that I am not taking a position (in this post) on whether members should or should not vote for stronger gun control — that's a question of policy and ideology. But I am taking the position that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown: The House GOP currently holds the reins of the People's Chamber, a strongly majoritarian institution that can act both quickly and with clarity.

As a party of members who, in lockstep, are walking into the swirling waters of the November elections while collectively shackled by the hot mess that is Donald Trump, the tragedies in Orlando, Charleston, San Bernardino, Newtown, and too many other places in the past few years must be addressed.

The American people are calling for a response. The least that Speaker Ryan and his colleagues in the Republican leadership can do is hit us back with a roll call vote.

This post is part of Mischiefs of Faction, an independent political science blog featuring reflections on the party system. See more Mischiefs of Faction posts here.

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