Illustration by Emily Levenson
Matt Deitsch met with student leaders at Berkeley High School (BHS) to discuss student advocacy for gun safety on Monday, March 12. Deitsch, twenty, is an alumnus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. His younger brother and sister are current students who survived the shooting on February 14. Deitsch is the Community Outreach Director for March For Our Lives.
Students at the discussion belonged to several BHS clubs including Amnesty International and Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (SDA). Adult representatives from Amnesty International also attended, along with BHS Principal Erin Schweng and Berkeley International High School Vice Principal Carrie Berg. The event was not school-sponsored, and was intended as a chance for students to learn from an activist engaged in similar work.
Kira Galbraith, a BHS sophomore and member of Amnesty International, said, “We hear about [gun violence] in the news, but we don’t get to hear about it on a personal level, and this was an opportunity to do that.”
Over pizza, Deitsch shared his experience in the four weeks since the Parkland shooting. He talked about the origins of March For Our Lives and #NeverAgain, as well as the importance of student advocacy and engagement.
Deitsch described five main policy goals supported by March For Our Lives. The first is to repeal allow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence. The second is to require a digital record of gun sales.
According to Deitsch, these policies may provide important data to address gun violence. The third goal is for universal background checks. Fourth, the march leaders demand a high-capacity magazine ban so guns can’t fire multiple rounds in a row. Finally, they hope to achieve an assault weapons ban with a buyback program. “The reason we picked those points is because they really don’t discriminate against any group in this country. It creates a unified front in which it’s not a right or a left issue, it’s just about saving people’s lives,” Deitsch said.
To other student activists, Deitsch recommended working on local gun safety legislation, participating in voter registration drives, and initiating town halls with elected representatives.
Oscar Ashley, a BHS junior who moderated the discussion, said he was inspired by Deitsch’s ideas for activism. “I think it would be interesting to have our political representatives come out and have a conversation with us … about how we can make positive change,” he said.
Deitsch also encouraged students to educate themselves and others. He said that becoming knowledgeable about gun violence and safety has made him better able to advocate and communicate with people with different views. “Through education of any kind, we find more of a consensus,” he said.