Parkland’s congressman walked away from the spotlight.
Ted Deutch was standing on stage with Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, had been killed three weeks earlier in the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. An audience of a thousand people — children, parents and gun control activists — at T.C. Williams High School in liberal Northern Virginia were itching to hear from Deutch, who sparred with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio during a televised town hall debate a few weeks earlier.
As Guttenberg began to speak, Deutch inched away from the light illuminating the middle of the auditorium stage, giving Guttenberg the ability to make eye contact with the dozens of students and parents and drive the conversation about how best to prevent another school mass shooting.
Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat who lives a few miles away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is playing the role of consoler and facilitator as thousands of his constituents prepare to travel to Washington for the March for Our Lives on Saturday. He’s met with the families of victims and survivors dozens of times, and he’s also devising a political gameplan that turns upset parents and students across the country into single-issue voters capable of changing elections.
“We have student activists who have inspired a lot of adults, who because of them are now single-issue voters, Republicans and Democrats,” Deutch said. “We’ve seen some big-name Republicans come together to form groups to say if you aren’t committed to keeping our communities safe by getting weapons of war off of our streets, then we’re not going to support you. My colleagues now have been doing events in their districts, town hall meetings, where they tell me that for the first time there are high school kids who are coming out and they’re coming out in droves.”
Deutch’s message on guns, which doesn’t stray far from the liberal orthodoxy of banning assault weapons, limiting magazine capacity and implementing universal background checks, was well received among the attendees in Northern Virginia hearing him for the first time.
“Clearly, his constituents want him out here,” said Mary Monroe, a 38-year-old teacher from Alexandria who hadn’t heard of Deutch before his speech. “I was very impressed he came to our town hall with [Virginia Democratic Rep.] Don Beyer. To me, that just shows how much he cares.”
Deutch is also close with the Parkland students who are planning the March for Our Lives in Washington. He brought them to meet high school students in Maryland two weeks after the shooting, and sat down with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School politics club in January, less than a month before the shooting.
In the middle of Deutch’s picture from January was Emma González, the Parkland student who garnered international attention after she called out pro-gun lawmakers in a speech the weekend after the shooting.
“Congressman, thank you for fighting the good fight,” Parkland student and March for Our Lives organizer Cameron Kasky said recently on Twitter.
Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alaina Joann Petty, was killed at Stomenan Douglas, doesn’t agree with most of Deutch’s positions on guns. But he said Deutch has been helpful to every family dealing with the loss of a loved one.
“He’s clearly had strongly held beliefs and despite those strongly held beliefs he’s been able to still play an advocacy role for the families,” he said.
Read more here.