WASHINGTON - The Obama administration has said that Democratic lawmakers, who staged a 24-hour sit-in (dharna) on the floor of the US House of Representatives earlier this week, were making their voices heard, while exercising their right to free speech and to expression peacefully.

"Democracy can be messy; democracy can be dramatic at times," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the daily press briefing when a journalist questioned the behaviour of elected American officials who staged a third world-like protest by sitting on the House floor to demand a vote on gun control legislation.

Asked what message the lawmakers were giving to the world by resorting to the sit-in, the spokesman said, "I’m very careful not to speak for any member of Congress, a group or individually... And as we say with respect to different issues around the world when I get up here and I talk about democratic freedoms elsewhere, we believe that freedom of expression is important, and the ability to have your voice be heard.

"I would hope that however you come down on the issues in terms of domestic gun laws, that one clear message of what’s been going on in Congress is that we are a democracy and that we’re not afraid to make our voices heard one way or the other, and we think that’s important. And we think that to be able to do that in a peaceful way, to be able to do that in a transparent way is important.

"When I stand up here and I talk about some places around the world where you can’t do that, that’s why. And so, again, however you come down on the issue, it’s clear that in the halls of our Congress, that they are exercising their right to free speech and to expression."The sit-in, which began on Wednesday, was ended on Thursday as Congress was recessed till July 5.

Congressman John Lewis, who launched the sit-in, said the fight was not over. "We must come back here on July 5th [when Congress returns to session] more determined than ever before," Lewis said.

Roughly 40 House lawmakers demanded a vote on measures to expand background checks and block gun purchases by some suspected terrorists in the aftermath of last week's massacre in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people. It was the worst shooting in modern history.