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Charlie Mirsky (left) and Alfonso Calderson, students from Parkland, Florida, at a forum with the Gun Violence Task Force on Capitol Hill May 23, 2018. Mirsky registered as a lobbyist last summer. | Win McNamee/Getty Images Influence Meet the 19-year-old gun-control lobbyist who has lawmakers’ ears “What was remarkable was the way he able to…
Charlie Mirsky has set a goal for himself before he leaves for college at the end of the summer: Persuade Congress to shell out $50 million for gun-violence prevention research.
Mirsky is the political director of March for Our Lives, the grassroots effort to press for stricter gun laws that students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., organized after the deadly shooting there last year. At 19, he’s one of the youngest registered lobbyists in Washington.
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Mirsky registered as a lobbyist last summer and arranged to finish his last year of high school online. When Democrats took back the House last year and Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared she would make “bipartisan legislation to have common-sense background checks” a priority, he started spending more time in Washington to help pass the bill.
“We knew we had to be here full-time to make sure these bills had our proper support and that we could help push this legislation as much as possible,” he said in an interview.
Staffers for Washington’s established gun-violence prevention groups credit Mirsky and other teenage advocates with giving the movement a shot in the arm. March for Our Lives was instrumental in persuading House lawmakers to pass a background-checks bill in February — the first new gun restrictions to make it through either chamber in 25 years. And two Democratic presidential candidates hailed the movement by name during the first primary debate last month.
The National Rifle Association spends more on Washington lobbying than any gun violence prevention group, and its deep support among Republican voters has made it almost impossible for any new restrictions to find enough votes to make it to the president’s desk.
But the group has been riven by infighting this year. The NRA’s president resigned in April, its top lobbyist stepped down last month, and Congress and New York’s attorney general are investigating the group’s finances.
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Mirsky didn’t go to Stoneman Douglas, but he was good friends with several students who did. He was one of the small group of students who started March for Our Lives after the shooting that left 17 dead, including one of Mirsky’s former teachers.
When he arrived in Washington last year – staying in Airbnbs, hotels or with family friends while he was in town –Republicans were in control of Congress and the White House, and Mirsky, who was finishing his junior year of high school, was still a novice lobbyist.
“At first, we were literally high-school kids in D.C. with no guidance, trying to get gun-violence prevention laws passed,” Mirsky said.
Mirsky said he had a few early mishaps, such as when he casually put his feet up on a table in Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey’s office, only to be told it cost $5,000.
But Mirsky gradually learned how to press lawmakers for support. He built personal relationships with lawmakers including Pelosi, who invited him to the State of the Union in February as her guest, and Deutch, who texts with Mirsky and occasionally meets him for pizza or bagels.
In February, House Democrats passed a background checks bill with support from eight Republican lawmakers, including several who’d once boasted “A” ratings from the NRA. And last month the House passed a spending bill that included $50 million in funding for gun-violence prevention research — the provision Mirsky wants to shepherd through the Republican-held Senate before he leaves for Lafayette College in Pennsylvania next month.
March for Our Lives spent $140,000 on Washington lobbying in the first three months of the year — as much as former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ advocacy group spent — but the group remains largely student-run.
Heather McHugh, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer who March for Our Lives recently hired as an outside lobbyist, reports to Mirsky. So does a Washington public affairs firm that the group retains, Precision Strategies.
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Mike Crapo Chuck Grassley Nancy Pelosi Michael Bloomberg NRA Gun Control Gun Laws Ted Deutch Gun Lobby Parkland school shooting School shootings March For Our Lives
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