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An interview from March For Our Lives co-founder Ryan Deitsch

The Journal spoke with March For Our Lives co-founder and Parkland survivor Ryan Deitsch for a story about guns laws in the US.

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Can you give us your story and your background, how you got involved in the March for Our Lives movement?

I’m Ryan Deitsch, I’m 19 years old. I am about to come off a gap year. I started working for the organization after I helped co-found it with several of my other classmates after being involved in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. We all came together because we were all individually seeing that something needed to be done, but then once we actually sat down and became one cohesive unit, we formed March for Our Lives and ever since then, I’ve been using my skills as a filmmaker and a journalist to further this mission and help save lives.

 

How has this changed your life and the lives of your classmates?

I mean, just in general, well with myself, I was set to go to the Columbia College in Chicago, I was supposed to be there in the fall, instead I took the time to work for the organization and now, after all of this work, I’m attending American (University) in the fall instead. As far as everybody else, it’s massively changed the trajectory of a lot of people’s lives, in which now, instead of doing things that were more for themselves, they are now much more socially-oriented, much more community-oriented, and because of that, we’ve seen amazing things happen. Not only all over the country but all over the world.

 

What’s your opinion on gun laws in America and the lack of change?

Just to make it absolutely clear, there has been change on the local level. And especially at the state level, there has been change over the country. And the issue, I know more so as you’re looking at it, is the federal laws that just haven’t moved. And we know what this administration is, we know in the legislative branch, in the judicial branch, we know the trials that we are going to face when it comes to making common sense gun legislation at least on the federal level for this country. And really what we need to see is, we need these laws to be stronger. We need them to be properly enforced, especially. A lot of people talk about how there are already laws in the books, well a lot of them aren’t enforced, and if they aren’t enforced, sometimes it’s because it’s impossible to enforce them. Like, for instance, if in the state of Texas, you’re not required to report if your gun is stolen, then why would you do it? Why would you put your name on some government paperwork if you don’t want them to know you have a gun in the first place because you’re owning it because of some tyrannical decision. We have to look at all these issues, and of course, there are no blanket laws that will fix everything all over the country. You need things at every level. But when it comes to federal, what we really could do, is we could, like what just happened with the Violence Against Women Act, expanding it to protect them against abuse of boyfriends and partners, that’s something that we can do at the federal level. As well as making sure that background checks are being conducted for all gun sales, that’s another thing that.. The U.S. government right now, by not requiring such things, allows states that don’t feel the need to just toss it aside, and that raises the gun violence in those areas. Especially in areas like Baton Rouge, Louisiana, St. Louis, Missouri, and of course the ones you always hear about like Baltimore, Chicago, South Central LA. These issues will continue to persist as long as we don’t do anything. And what we’ve seen now is after the year that we’ve had, after all the advocacy that we’ve been rallying up across this country, we’ve seen a lot of gun-sense advocates enter politics. We’ve seen a lot of gun-sense advocates enter different fields and speak out for all different sorts of issues that all combine to generally, what gun violence is. Really, what I feel that March for Our Lives has brought to the table is making sure that we aren’t so much just talking about one part of this issue, like so many groups have done for so long. But we’re talking about all parts of this issue. That we’re not just talking about what happens when a gun enters a school, we’re talking about what happens when a gun enters a synagogue, what happens when a gun enters a mosque, what happens when a gun enters a movie theater, what happens when you’re just walking down the street and you just turn down that wrong alley. Why is there a wrong alley? Why aren’t you in the wrong place? Why is there a wrong place? And, it’s just really identifying that and making sure that we’re all standing together on these issues because change won’t come unless we demand it. Change will never come for those who just ask. You have to demand. You have to stand for what you believe in. And, with this issue especially, we have a lot against us. We have million dollar lobbyists against us. We have industries that make tons and tons of money every single time we fail. And every single time more people die. It’s really atrocious that this is a system that exists and this is the situation that we’re in. But we’re a group of 14 to 21 year olds who are just trying to do what we see is right. And truly, the change is coming, albeit very slowly. And, (there’s) no telling if this administration will do further than what they’ve already done. Which, they did regulate bumpstocks, so we do congratulate them for that, but again that was mostly because we told them to do it. But, it’s really just making sure that these changes come as quickly as possible because you see these stories every day. You see whether it’s a mass shooting or whether it’s gang related or police brutality. These things happen all over our country. Every single day, between 96 and 105 people, dead. Every single day. Now that’s just something that we can’t accept, that’s something that I can’t accept. And hopefully through this work that we’re doing and through the work that we’ve seen.. We’re not the first ones at this, we know we’re not the first ones to crack this egg. But hopefully, if we all like actually work on this, we’ll be able to make it. Right now, the people we’re working against are on their toes. They’re getting worried. That’s good. But, there’s so much more to do so when it comes to just my overall opinion of it, the gun laws are too weak, the gun lobby is too strong, but hopefully if we get in that mix, the gun lobby will be weaker, our laws will be stronger, and our country will be better because of it.

 

What is your advice for students that want to make a difference/impact on lawmakers and other students?

Well, for our organization specifically, we have a chapter network that we have just started up on marchforourlives.com. You’re able to type in your zip code, find the most local group that exists. If one does not so exist, as long as you have four people that you can get together, and you can meet regularly, that doesn’t mean weekly that means occasionally, then you can start your own March for Our Lives group and we will give you support and we’ll give you any sort of tools that you may need to get connected to your local government, make sure that you’re doing everything that needs to be done. What you can do as individuals though is truly just make sure (you) stay alert when it comes to laws and proceedings, if there is something that is going to hit the floor in your state legislature, if there is something that is going to hit the floor on the federal level. Be sure that you’re paying attention to that because when it comes to phone calls and emails and letters, they do listen. And the issue that we face right now is that the gun lobby is so organized with a group of people that are only caring about this issue and for the wrong reasons, that they write in and they rule these systems through fear. They intimidate. I mean, if you heard just recently, in Texas, they wanted to introduce constitutional carries, which is something that we starkly disagree with, which basically would deregulate most gun laws that are already on the books. And this was set to pass in Texas, but the leader who was writing this legislation was threatened by an individual with a firearm, and because of that, he decided not to do so. Those people exist everywhere, not just in Texas. I’ve met them. And they certainly aren’t the best people, but they just need a push in the right direction. So when it really comes to what we can do is just keep the conversation going. Especially when it comes to myself, I said that I work mainly using my skills as a filmmaker and a journalist, so I know how to talk to people, I know how to communicate the messages and I know how to show it to them. But, if you aren’t that type of individual, if you’re somebody who’s really good at painting or really good at photography, or really good at public speaking or even just poetry, just writing down simple.. Anything that can get the message across, anything that you can do to communicate it, that’s your greatest strength. You shouldn’t have to change who you are to care about something, you should allow that passion that you have to fuel whatever it is you can do. So it’s really that there is no limit to what can possibly be done but the most direct actions you can take are truly writing in, calling, making sure that they know your name and face because it’s harder, it is way harder to spread BS as a politician when you personally know these people. So it’s really just making sure that you gain that rapport, especially with the local guys, it’s really easy. The local congress people and politicians, they will usually be accessible. When it comes to someone like a senator or a president, it’s a little harder to get them online. But, really just making sure.. Like, to make your voice heard, they need to know your voice because otherwise, they won’t care about you unless there are dollar signs coming on. It’s really just.. There’s so much more but that’s just generally the.. That’s a good start.

 

How do you think we’ve grown since Columbine? The main changes that have been made since that event?

I don’t know if this is something where you are, but where I’m from, the doors that exit most schools, they are are wider than they used to be, they are more easy to open for mass exits. Those we called Columbine doors. Now that’s just one change that you can see in the very structure of a school, but along with that, we have definitely militarized our schools to a certain extent that isn’t acceptable, yet we continue to do so and we continue to further it by even introducing such notions like arming the staff. Now, although that is very ridiculous and hazardous, they continue to push those things because there are people paying to do so. But when it comes to.. Ever since Columbine, there have been a lot of changes in the way that, although this issue persists and the things stay the same, the people are growing tired of it. The people are absolutely tired of it. And although I will say this as not an endorsement, just a mention of candidate mayor Pete Buttigieg. He even went on record to say the mass shooting generation. Because it has been 20 years in modern history of these frequent mass shootings, especially in schools, we are a generation of people facing this. We are an entire age demographic of people that have faced the issue of never feeling safe in a building. Never feeling safe in a hall of learning. Never feeling safe in a movie theater. Never really feeling safe. And, although, of course, that doesn’t apply to every single person in our generation, that is significantly higher than others. Because just as our grandparents may have faced duck and cover, we face code reds. And that is just something that weighs on us psychologically, that’s something that changes us developmentally, and that’s something that has grown significantly since Columbine. I can tell you even since the mass shooting at my high school, there have been roughly over 1,000 code red drills in my county. One thousand. Now that, that’s just ridiculous because considering, although there were three incidents with firearms across my county, one of which resulting in the deaths, 1,000 times. I mean when it comes to a mass shooting, once you’re in that situation, it’s so chaotic that it doesn’t matter how much prep you’ve had. It’s just harming the kids, it’s just hurting their ability to focus in schools. I mean, I’ve heard from too many toddlers that they are scared. And they can barely pronounce their r’s. It’s just something that we have seen that has changed, but thankfully since the time of Gabrielle Giffords being shot and taking on the advocacy and ever since the founding of Sandy Hook Promise, we have seen change. We have seen.. Really.. This isn’t just a policy issue, this is a public health issue. This is a societal issue that we have to look at through all different lenses, especially culture. We have to look at our gun culture in our country. We have to realize what it’s perpetuating, what it’s pushing, what it’s selling us. Just like we regulated the cigarette industry, in which we saw tobacco was killing people so we had to change the way that we showed it to the public. That guns right now are over mapped. They add way too much testosterone and way too much just chaos into the mix. Just the very idea that a gun makes you more manly is dangerous. That means that there will be violent individuals who may not feel man enough that they have to prove it. Now that leads to somebody getting hurt. And especially when we’re selling it to everybody and anybody, there are people that aren’t qualified to handle such things. There aren’t people required to be trained to handle such things. And that’s just really something that we’re coming after as well. Because even the training that’s required now, the main point that they give you in most of these courses that I’ve been informed about, they say that you should shoot to kill. In most situations you should shoot to kill because you don’t want the other person telling their side of the story, it will just be more trouble for you. Now, that flawed logic aside, we are teaching even the people who are getting the training to handle these guns, to learn how to clean them, because there are people who injure themselves weekly who don’t know how to clean their weapon and then it goes off. That these people now know that whenever they have to use that gun, they have to use it to the best of its ability. They have to unload the clip, maybe reload it and unload it again. It’s that, these changes come slow, and since Columbine, we have seen a rise in this. Of course we see a rise in media coverage in general as well, so these stories have existed, yet we are seeing them more and more now. But there are things that have been rising. There is a rise in hate crimes. There is a rise especially against religious groups. We’ve seen a rise in all these types of crime. It is due to this rhetoric. It is due to these people who are at play, who are at fault, like the National Rifle Association, that continues to claim that anybody who wants common sense legislation is really a communist in disguise trying to steal away your freedom. That, that’s ridiculous. Yet they continue to use that rhetoric since the days of Columbine. And, like, hopefully, that in these most recent years, that we’ve been able to change that narrative, make sure that they aren’t really controlling it. Because for far too long the NRA has actually been valued in these conversations, when in reality they work with the gun manufacturers to sell their products. And this is documented, this is well documented. They have magazines that they sell ads, that those ads do better depending on sales. And it’s just that we realize that in the time since Columbine there (have) been a lot of people killed. A lot of students, a lot of young students. But, this country still refuses to act because there’s something stopping it. And hopefully, like I said, due to the work of Gabrielle Giffords, the likes of Everytown (Everytown for Gun Safety), Sandy Hook Promise, and us, that we’re able to actually turn the tides on all of this and we’re able to stop this. I don’t have to explain to you how horrific something like this is. It’s just, it’s got to stop.

 

Do you see yourself continuing with this movement in the future? What are the plans for March for Our Lives?

March for Our Lives is generally going towards the chapters that we’ve been building out. We have a lot of young leaders who are taking charge all across the country. We have roughly about 200 registered right now but every day we get more and more requests. But, so that’s one angle that we’re taking. We really want to make sure that we’re (preparing) for 2020. We want to make sure that we have our voter registration efforts all in play, we’re planning that out over the next few months. But, as far as all the original members and co founders, all of us are planning on going to college. We will be scattering ourselves across a little bit. But we are still dedicated to this issue. We’re still working on this in our various fields. But. we just have to really, what we’re looking towards, is making that everything is in our favor. Because right now the deck is stacked against us. So March for Our Lives’ main goal is to make sure that the deck, that it’s more fair. (there??) That as Manuel Oliver’s organization changed the re, we’ve got to change the re?? These guys are making some bad calls and we just can’t, we can’t exist in this atmosphere. Common sense gun reform will not happen ‘just because’ in this administration. It will take biting to the nail, it will take massive protests, massive demonstrations, of course, all nonviolent, but it will still take that. But, in regards to the rest of our future, just making sure that the conversation stays going. We’ve been making sure that, of course, with these chapters all across the country, we’ve been raising other student leaders to take our places. But we intend to keep on with this fight until it’s won.

 

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The student news site of Southport High School
An interview from March For Our Lives co-founder Ryan Deitsch