Rocket Pop Media Encourages Community to Voice Opinions on Gun Reform With NeverAgainRVA

by | Mar 13, 2018 | COMMUNITY

It’s been four weeks since Nikolas Cruz, an 18-year-old senior opened fire with a self-purchased AR-15 on unsuspecting classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Details including texts messages and personal testimonies have been released to the public, the last testament to the memories of the deceased; the last chance for ill-fated to express their final thoughts. The public response-complicated.

While many desperately seek reform, most of the public is left stranded among the muddled shambles of gun debate. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, over half of the American public is dissatisfied with the current gun regulations while still split on the potential ban on assault weapons like the one used in Parkland. Many look to their local politicians for answers, including the survivors of the Parkland shooting, initiating protests across the state of Florida, and national school walk-outs scheduled for Wednesday, March 14.

Here in Richmond, a public relations firm saw this momentum as a call to action to create a platform for those in Virginia still struggling to have their voices heard. “It is ingrained in the kids who are being affected by this, not the politicians behind this; this is the kids’ movement, not a politicians movement,” said Scott Dickens, founder and president of Rocket Pop Media, the company raising its banner for Richmond to rally behind.

Dickens recently formed Never Again RVA, a grassroots effort which through a website and Facebook group, providing a variety of resources on gun control for those wanting to make their voices heard with ideas for attainable steps to reduce gun violence.

“This isn’t something I’ve been planning eight weeks in advance, I woke up in the middle of the night and realized this needed to happen,” Dickens said of his campaign. 

When I went to visit the firm last week, I had several reservations about what to expect. Ergonomic cubicles, Wes Anderson-themed decor, maybe a bean bag by the floating break room. Expectations were shot upon arrival, the reflective windows nothing but pure irony to the transparent nature of those inside. Dickens was not the pseudo-Jeff Goldblum I envisioned, but instead, about as average as a man could be.

The Never Again RVA website provides a comprehensive spread on the subject of gun reform, with links to bills in relation to gun reform in committee circulation and a mission statement-turned list of grievances for common sense reform. “There’s a cross-section of things that could happen- whether you’re banning bump stocks, or raising the age limit from 18 to 21, or universal background checks- that most Republicans and Democrats agree on,” Dickens said.

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Dickens, the father of a 12-year-old and ex-school teacher, has followed gun reform closely, but became especially perturbed by the horrors that transpired on Feb. 14.

“We used to live by there in Florida, about a mile from the school, and, it occurred to me, I have a 12-year-old son- if we were still living in Florida, he probably would’ve gone there,” he said. “The idea that this could happen anywhere or to anyone kind of really struck home for me.”

The assailant, a high schooler that had purchased what Dickens and the group repeatedly referred to as a ‘weapon of mass destruction’. “They weren’t made for self-defense, they weren’t made to hunt, the AR-15 was made for one thing, and that’s to kill people- as quickly as possible,” he said.

While the site provides many resources to inform the public on gun reform, the main project behind the organization proposes a much bigger endeavor. Last week, Dickens invited anyone to come in and share their thoughts on camera, aiming to compile a collection of video testimonies to be used as “ammunition” in the fight for gun reform.

(In the clip above, Richmond students address what its like going to school in a time where mass shootings are a regular occurrence.)

Friends and relatives of the group participated,  along with fellow parents and PTA members, and local students. Some with no reason to come except the frame of their child in hand. One woman, who came in did not hesitate in voicing her opinion, “Isn’t the human brain not even fully developed until 25? Why would we allow guns to underdeveloped kids still in the heat of puberty?” she said.

Guest interviewees covered a variety of topics in relation to gun reform during their interviews, including arming teachers. “They say well-trained police officers only hit 30-40 percent at about 25-35 feet, you’d think a teacher who has only fired a gun a handful of times in their life is going to all of the sudden, turn Rambo in a classroom?” one person said.

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Dickens interviewing a local high student

According to a 2015 study by Minnesota University, researchers found that NYPD officers had around an 18-20 percent shooting accuracy. And these are officers who practice shooting daily and have extensive experience in combat situations. It would be past the point of negligence to afford these same expectations for a public school teacher.

Self-defense from the government was another hot topic of controversy. “What if the government were to rise up, turning on the public, how would we defend ourselves?” an interviewee asked. The MQ-1B Predator, an average militarized drone in usage by the U.S. military, comes equipped with laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, wide-range sensors, and numerous assorted tools and capabilities that make it perfect for both surveillance, and time-sensitive missions; meaning it’s one of the weaker ones.

“If the government wants to get you… they will. There’s virtually nothing your rifle will do to stop them,’ Dickens said when asked about that topic.

A number of proposed solutions were addressed between the interviews, from providing universal background checks on those looking to purchase, to raising the age limit from 18 to 21. Dickens assures the best solution now is to implement small changes towards gun reform, ensuring the changes will help without much constraints on the average gun owner. And he didn’t hold back when it came to pointing the finger at who’s to blame for preventing legislation from moving forward.

“The NRA, I think the NRA propagates its power anyway it can, if you took them out of the picture, how many laws would easily pass…” Dickens said.

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On several occasions, Dickens alluded to the National Rifle Association, the controversial lobbyist group interlaced in the gun reform, to be at the heart of the opposition. And with the NRA headquarters located in Fairfax, the organization is a hot topic on the doorstep of Virginia politics.

Last Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the High School Public Safety Act into law. That same day, within hours of its passing, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer filed a lawsuit, stating the new provision banning 18 to 21-year-olds infringed upon their constitutional rights; citing the 2nd Amendment.

“When the 2nd Amendment was written, no one was thinking of an AR-15. You had muskets, you had handguns. I think they were counting on a certain level of common sense,” Dickens said.

After some brief research and reading through an extensive article published by The Guardian, the billowing haze once filling behind closed doors began to clear. Written before the formation of the national guard and in an age where one shot per three minutes was beyond lethal, the right to bearing arms was under much different circumstances when written.

By technicality, there is no guarantee in the 2nd Amendment to individual gun rights on the basis of self-defense, with the Supreme Court disallowing individual gun rights to citizens outside the context of the militia on numerous occasions from 1876 and 1939. 

Though obvious on his stance towards the controversial lobbyist group, Dickens did extend an olive branch to the group. “If someone wanted to come in and speak on behalf of the NRA, they could; they’re a part of the community.”

Around 70 bills centering around gun reform were filed in the 2018 Virginia General Assembly session. As session wrapped up Saturday, the GA had passed only one bill, which restricts the firearm rights of people who had mental health problems as teenagers. A bill to ban bump stocks, a device that allows a semiautomatic rifle to rapidly fire failed. Most were left in subcommittee, killed almost immediately. Even still, Dickens remains hopeful for the community. “I mean Reagan was a proponent of {an} assault weapons ban, you know, even the staunchest low of Republicans can’t argue too much against it,” he said. 

Dickens hopes the program will encourage people in Richmond to have an open discussion about the issues at hand and to not let those that perished at the hands of negligent legislation go in vain. “This is a kickstart for hopefully a groundswell here in the Richmond community,” he said. “There’s definitely a break in reality between what is happening on the street and what is happening in the gun owners mind, we didn’t want to lose the momentum behind these kids, a month later it wouldn’t necessarily do any good.”

Visit neveragainrva.com to learn more about the group, or email [email protected] to get involved. Anyone across Virginia and outside of the state can submit blogs, photos, and their stories and other reosurces to the site.

Photos By: Never Again RVA

 

John Donegan

John Donegan




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