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Why did Democrats stage a sit in? Because Paul Ryan wouldn't let them vote

This photo provided by Rep.Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore. shows

This photo provided by Rep.Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore. shows Democrat members of Congress, including, from left, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.,participating in sit-down protest seeking a a vote on gun control measures, Wednesday, June 22, 2016, on the floor of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: AP

When Democratic members of the House of Representatives hold a sit-in on the floor of their chamber like college students from the 1960s, you know, as Buffalo Springfield once sang, there’s something happening here.

But what it is, is exactly clear.

Two crises have collided and created a moment of high drama and potential change.

The national demand for action over gun violence and the easy availability of weapons that came to a head this month after 49 people were gunned down in a nightclub in Orlando is not fading, at least not yet. And the unwillingness of Republican House leaders to put contentious items up for a vote forced elected Democrats to storm their own chamber for a takeover.

Since John Boehner took the House gavel in 2010, the chamber has often been dominated by a conservative minority of the 435 members who happen to comprise a majority of the Republican caucus.

These folks are on the fringe nationally, but in the mainstream of their mostly Southern districts, and many of them were swept in as part of the tea party movement.

They often do not control enough votes to defeat bills Democrats and moderate Republicans support, which is why they fight to keep certain bills from coming to the floor. But they do control enough votes within the caucus to snatch the speaker’s gavel from a leader who puts such iffy legislation up for a vote.

Speaker Paul Ryan, like Boehner before him, has been hamstrung by the intransigence of his party's most conservative members, and by the desire of Republicans with tough re-election prospects to avoid having to vote on tough issues.

Say what you will about the Senate defeating four gun-control bills this week, two proposed by Democrats and two by Republicans: It did, at least, vote on these contentious ideas. The House very rarely does.

So Wednesday morning, Democrats, unable to legislate, protested.

They sat on the floor, and Ryan put the House in recess, which led to the C-SPAN cameras being shut off.

Wednesday evening, Ryan got on CNN to lecture Wolf Blitzer about the Constitution and his unwillingness to take the people’s constitutional rights without due process. He also claimed that the real issue is not guns but terrorism, even though it leads to a tiny percentage of the gun deaths in this nation, and even the mass killings related to terrorism.

But he did not explain why he won’t allow a vote.

It’s not surprising that the gun issue and the democracy issue are becoming intertwined in the House and elsewhere. About 90 percent of Americans want universal background checks and people on terrorist watch lists banned from buying guns, and our popularly elected officials won’t allow it.

That seems unsustainable and insupportable.

Ryan needs to let the members vote.