The Fight for Their Lives
The Parkland students’ big battle to get gun control on the ballot.
On Feb. 14, 2018, a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. Some of the survivors channeled their anger into a new drive for gun control. A month later, they convened a march in Washington, D.C., which some 800,000 people attended, and others across the country. The movement, called March for Our Lives, has since grown into a massive gun control organization and voter registration drive, with more than 200 chapters across the United States.
Matt Deitsch, a co-founder and chief strategist of the group, spent weeks on end in 2018 campaigning for gun control in 41 states. During the tour, he and other organizers sold and gave away more than 50,000 T-shirts emblazoned with a QR code that, when scanned with a smartphone, led directly to a voter registration site. Together with Apple, the students also created a popular get-out-the-vote video.
Deitsch, now 21, was not on campus on Feb. 14. But his sister and brother were. Both survived: Samantha turned 15 the day of the massacre. Ryan, who was 17, hid in a closet during the shooting and filmed the aftermath. Deitsch spoke to Foreign Policy in November.
Foreign Policy: Parkland activists had incredible momentum and visibility in 2018. How do you continue that fight going forward?
Matt Deitsch: By helping young people and others affected by this issue to be educated and engaged. Bullets don’t discriminate. It’s not just about keeping the memory of Parkland—which obviously our group is never, ever going to fully move on from because it’s so ingrained in who we are. More people are affected by this issue every day.
FP: How do you not feel despair?
MD: Because we have the guidebook to actually stop it. We’ve seen other countries rise up and stop it. What we’re up against isn’t the Constitution or the Founding Fathers. What we’re up against is corruption and greed. We have a new Congress, and we’re going to hold its members accountable to do what they claimed they’re going to do. We have several Gun Sense activists [gun control advocates] now in Congress, and we’re going to continue to organize against the political players who choose to be complacent with this, because people are dying.
We are not safe in this country with the current gun laws. This is a uniquely American problem. We have to know that life is worth fighting for and that if we continue to rise up like we have in the last eight months, we will solve this problem before my generation has kids.
FP: What is the fight for 2019?
MD: We need to create a standard for responsible gun ownership and accountability for people who own firearms.
We have 10 policy points, including funding research on gun violence and treating it as a public health issue, universal background checks, disarming domestic abusers, comprehensive red flag laws, digitizing ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] records, and addressing gun trafficking.
If an underage person in most states steals their parents’ alcohol and hurts someone, their parents get felony charges. If you do the same with a gun, there are next to no consequences in most states. So it’s about creating a standard of what responsibility looks like.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for publication. This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Foreign Policy magazine.
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