Parkland Students Speak, One Year Later NPR's Scott Simon speaks with activists Matt Deitsch and Charlie Mirsky about their efforts to end gun violence in the wake of last year's shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

Parkland Students Speak, One Year Later

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This coming week marks a year since 17 students and staff were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen people were also injured. Witnesses identified a former student as the gunman. He's been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. The shooting sparked grief and outrage across the nation and galvanized many in Parkland to organize, to rally and to speak out against gun violence.

The Parkland students, as they have become known, have been active in the "March For Our Lives" rally in Washington, D.C., and in rallies and activities across the country. Two leaders of that movement are now in our studios, Matt Deitsch and Charlie Mirsky. Thanks both very much for being with us.

MATT DEITSCH: Thank you so much for having us.


SIMON: Matt, you're a graduate now of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. I gather you have siblings who are still there. What's the last year been like?

DEITSCH: Well, I graduated in 2016, and I was really involved in clubs at the school. I was senior class vice president. I knew people of all grades. And so I was home when everything was happening. And on February 14, that evening, I mean, we were supposed to have a birthday party for my sister, and some of her friends didn't make it out of the school. And the reality is that in that moment, I felt absolutely helpless. And my sister was sad, my brother was angry and I didn't know what to do.

And it wasn't until we started going to funerals and vigils where something clicked in me and I said I was going to start working. And so the last year has been effective, and we've been mobilizing young people. We've been inspiring the nation. And we've been shedding light on the reality of gun violence. And that's the real difference that we're trying to communicate to people is, like, it's not okay to just react. You need to activate yourself because if we're not standing up and organizing ourselves, then we're not doing enough to save lives in America.

SIMON: Charlie Mirsky, you attended Spanish River High School, which I gather is quite close, right?

MIRSKY: Yeah, it's just a couple miles away.

SIMON: What was the day like a year ago?

MIRSKY: So the whole experience was very different for me because I was not aware immediately that everything was going on. I heard rumors about certain things, but when this stuff happens in your community, I assumed it wasn't true. I thought this kind of stuff doesn't happen to us. This kind of stuff doesn't happen here. And in my mind, statistically, I didn't even think it happened, really, anywhere.

So to find out that it was true that my friend's school was shot up and that a previous teacher of mine, Scott Beigel, was, in fact, killed in that shooting, that was really shocking for me. And that - I wasn't immediately involved. I didn't think - the moment it happened, I wasn't immediately thinking, I'm going to go into this and make this stuff happen and change these laws. But "March For Our Lives" - we just realized, like, if we work together, we can really make something happen.

SIMON: In a lot of different ways, both of you have learned over the past year that it would be hard to think of a more divisive issue in America than guns, gun rights, gun registration, gun ownership - divisive, emotional, important to a lot of people on all sides. Are there one or two areas where you can see most people agreeing across party or ideological lines?

MIRSKY: Yeah, there's a bill introduced by Mike Thompson and Peter King. It's a bipartisan bill, 10 original co-sponsors - five Democrats and five Republicans. It's universal background checks, which is approved by 97 percent of Americans. Also, another topic would be working on digitizing ATF records, helping law enforcement enforce the laws that already exist.

SIMON: And that's Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

MIRSKY: That's right. If there are measures that law enforcement needs to enact so that they can keep American families safe, and they can't do that if they aren't given the proper resources or means to do so.

SIMON: Have you, over this past year, not encountered anyone who would say to either of you, look; I mean, I don't want anyone to be hurt or killed, but I do feel safer if I have free access to a gun because I live in a rough neighborhood, and life can be rough, and that's my home security system? I can't wait five minutes for the police to arrive.


DEITSCH: And every single one of our policies supports your right to do that. That's the thing is like, when we're talking about what we actually need to fight to prevent gun violence, while you are statistically less safe with a gun than without a gun, that may not work on - to convince many Americans, and that's OK.

SIMON: Well, you know, just telling them the statistics won't make somebody feel safe.

DEITSCH: Yeah, of course, because, I mean, that's a very emotional choice. And you're - like, you have the right to make that choice. So when we have those conversations, I usually tie it into - Parkland was one of the safest cities in Florida. It was voted that for almost a decade. Thousand Oaks was a top-five safest city in America. This can happen anywhere.

SIMON: I think I have one last question for both of you. Are there times when you'd like to get back to being a kid?

MIRSKY: I mean, in some ways, we still are kids. Like, we'll still go out sometimes late at night and, you know, go to the bowling alley or go see movies or whatnot. There are times where we just want to lay down and do nothing. But on February 14, we made that commitment to do this work, and we haven't faltered at all.

DEITSCH: Obviously, I'd trade anything to go back to February 13 and not have experienced that trauma, not seen what my sister went through and what the community went through and what all these families have gone through. And - but that's why we do this work, and that's why we're out here every single day, every single night, working as hard as we possibly can because every day, there's more families that are feeling like that in America, and our country's better than that.

I want every single person that's experienced gun violence today to be some of the last people experiencing gun violence in America because this trauma is deep, and it has to be acknowledged, and we have to be actively trying to prevent this trauma.

SIMON: Matt Deitsch and Charlie Mirsky are a couple of organizers of the "March For Our Lives." Thanks very much for being with us.

DEITSCH: Thank you so much.

MIRSKY: Thank you.


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