Student gun control activists from Parkland, Florida, stopped in San Antonio Monday evening as part of a national Road to Change summer tour.
They joined state and local activists for a panel discussion that focused on bringing change to a red state known for its pro-gun-rights politicians.
The Parkland activists are visiting cities across the country this summer to keep the conversation going after gaining the nation’s attention in February.
Cameron Kasky, an incoming senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, said one of their biggest goals is to get out the vote for gun control.
“When we have people who do not believe that voting is an important process, we have elections that put leaders into office that do not represent the people,” Kasky said. “When many people feel as if their vote means nothing, that’s what we get.”
Ryan Deitsch, a recent graduate of Stoneman Douglas, added: “If this conversation ends here, we’ve failed.”
About a dozen armed gun rights activists protested outside the town hall.
Rick Briscoe, with Open Carry Texas, said he was there to show a different side to the issue. He said the Parkland shooting happened because school, law enforcement and mental health officials failed to do their jobs.
“You’re telling me that passing laws restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens is going to make government officials do their job? I don’t think so,” he said.
Briscoe said he didn’t attend the discussion because he didn’t think he was welcome. He would have had to leave his gun behind to enter La Trinidad United Methodist Church, where the town hall was held.
Prior to the town hall, Parkland activists spoke with the gun rights activists outside, and the theme of starting a dialogue with people who disagree with you carried over into the panel discussion.
Kelly Choi, who graduated from the Cypress-Fairbanks school district near Houston this year, said there’s a lot of room for common ground when it comes to gun violence.
“When it comes down to it — when you talk to them — you realize you want the same things. Do you want your kids to die? No. Do you want schools to get shot up? No. Do you want innocent people to lay down their lives at the hands of an accidental gunshot or at crossfire or anything else? No,” said Choi, adding that she’s found that starting a conversation by asking to listen opens the door for dialogue.
The two-hour panel discussion covered topics ranging from suicide prevention to Texas’ campus carry law to the disproportionate impact of gun violence in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods.
During audience questions at the end of the discussion, North East ISD’s decision to require clear backpacks next school year came up.
“Not only do they not really do anything, they also really add to the normalization of all this. They make you think that gun violence is something that should exist in the schools so you have to protect yourself,” Dietsch said. “This isn’t just a school safety issue. If you can see into another kid’s backpack, then what’s next? When they graduate are you going to see into their briefcases?”
Sophia Mendez, an incoming junior at Churchill High School in NEISD, pointed out that the students will still be allowed to bring opaque athletic bags and instrument cases.
“Which can hold way more,” Mendez said. “It’s a stupid solution attempting to touch the surface.”
The activists also encouraged students to organize in groups to petition their state legislators and school board members for more substantive gun violence prevention measures.
Camille Phillips can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @cmpcamille