Below is a Twitter thread originally posted on July 8, 2018 that I transcribed and edited for readability here. It was written by Matt Deitsch, a young filmmaker, journalist, writer, and activist for March For Our Lives, and a 2016 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida. It captures an important moment in the story of gun violence in America, a topic I have been writing about since the year that Matt Deitsch was born.
Deitsch’s account of this conversation between young gun reform activists and pro-gun protesters is both encouraging and hopeful. Conversations between people who strongly disagree are so difficult that our default is to avoid them, or to have them in moments of frustration, from a distance, via sentences that feel like electronic slaps delivered by robots, instead of pleas between people who fear and rage; lash out and weep, just like you and me.
While online engagements might offer a sense of immediate release, they tend to do more harm than good, and usually serve to increase the distance between us: A Facebook post does not a civil conversation make. Consider how different the outcome can be when brave face-to-face conversations in real-time take place. Conversations, like this one:
“In case you didn’t know I am one of the organizers for #RoadToChange, and we are currently traveling through TX organizing youth meetings, rallies and town halls. These counter-protests at our events are welcome because they allow us to clarify our message.
In Dallas, the Facebook event to protest us, a few hundred people had RSVP’d. There were around 20 people standing outside open carrying in protest. When I first walked up, I was being harassed by a few protestors, but one man in a red hat approached me peacefully.
The protester asked about David (Hogg, Parkland, FL survivor and activist), reiterating NRA talking points and conservative slander about David, but only a few sentences into how he felt about David, David himself walks up and joins the conversation. The protester is smiling so big and shakes David’s hand.
Protestor: “Mr. Hogg are you anti-gun?”
David: “No, I come from a family of gun owners.”
Protestor: “So why do you want to take my gun.”
David: “Our policy isn’t in disarming law-abiding citizens, it’s about due process and preventing gun violence.”
The other protestors see us talking and approach us with their phones out. Some of them had guns larger than they were. Others had hand guns on their holsters. We then had a 90-minute conversation with “the most pro-2A group in Texas.”
As the conversation with the group began, some of the angrier protestors were aggressive in expressing their disagreement of our policy. Then we broke it down. We explained step by step, reason by reason why this policy would save lives; most of them agreed.
They didn’t believe Trump received 30 million dollars from the NRA (he did.)
They didn’t believe that arming teachers is a bad idea.
They did say there are better moves we can make besides arming teachers to improve safety.
They did agree this issue goes beyond schools.
At one point, a woman, probably 5’ tall, with a gun larger than her, began speaking about her grandkids. She said she feels more comfortable if she knows they’re being protected by armed guards. We spoke about Santa Fe having both armed guards and a plan, when 20 people were shot.
We spoke about what happens when people gain a false sense of security by additional firearms. Vegas had plenty of people ready to respond; hundreds were shot and killed.
Adding guns is a sales pitch, not a safety pitch.
If we really want safety, we need these common-sense reforms.
Red Flag Laws save lives.
Expanding universal background checks saves lives.
Limiting inner-state gun trafficking saves lives.
Digitizing ATF records combined with better funding to enforce existing laws saves lives.
Safe storage/trigger locks save lives.
We AGREED on ALL of these.
In the end, the man in the red hat, an armed protestor who thought he would spend his Saturday afternoon disrupting our town hall, learned so much that he ended by saying, something I’ll never forget:
‘This is the most American thing I’ve ever done. Thank you so much for helping us understand.’
USA baby, let’s save lives.”
On Wednesday evenings, at 7:00 pm, I am facilitating a series called What on Earth is Going On? We meet at King of Kings Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan to engage in discussions designed to help us better understand the divides that separate us, based on the news of the day. Through conversations, we work to sort out facts from opinions, and become more aware of our own biases and the biases of all news sources, including firmly held beliefs by friends and family. Our resistance to engaging this way, I think, is a measure of the importance of doing so. Just because bias and misinformation are present, does not mean that truth is NOT also present. The truths we distill are the things we need to understand in order to work together and learn from the lessons of history. We are all guilty of complacency and dogmatic rhetoric, which have become stumbling blocks to freedom and justice for all.
We need another way through.
If you are interested in joining us, please find more information on our website.