After Parkland Shooting, A Florida Gun Owner Gives Up His AR-57

Feb 17, 2018
Originally published on February 18, 2018 10:46 am

Ben Dickmann has been hunting since he was a child. The 40-year-old Florida man enjoyed going out on the gun range to practice firing at targets and was the proud owner of an AR-57, a semi-automatic rifle.

But, after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a former student using a semi-automatic rifle, Dickmann, who lives just over 30 minutes away in Fort Lauderdale, did something unexpected.

Dickmann turned in his AR-57 to the sheriff's office and asked them to destroy it. He posted about it on Facebook, and that post has now gone viral. It's been shared more than 100,000 times.

Dickmann spoke to NPR's Michel Martin about his love of the firearm and why he decided to give it up.


Interview Highlights

On the decision to turn in his AR-57

It's come after a lot of soul searching. Everybody always says - you know, it's the big argument right now - everybody's offering thoughts and prayers but nothing else. And I thought, well, this is something I can do that I think is right. And it's something I can do that might spark a change. You know, my whole goal was maybe to inspire one friend on my Facebook page to do the same thing. And maybe that friend would inspire one other person. And who knows? I totally didn't expect for this to go the way it did and as fast as it did.

On the issue of obtaining a concealed carry/weapon permit

The concealed weapons permit program here in the state of Florida, as far as I'm concerned, is a joke. Literally, it's three hours of PowerPoint, and then you go down to the range with a very, very low caliber handgun, and you have to put five out of 10 rounds on a paper plate at 5 feet. Probably half the class that I had are people that had never touched a gun before in their life.

On the challenge to give up his AR-57

After Las Vegas, I had thought long and hard about it, and thought, well, you know, it's not hurting anything sitting in my gun safe here. But it wasn't really until this last tragedy at Stoneman Douglas where it really hit home with us - and me.

Actually, one of my friends on Facebook rather sarcastically said, well, if you really feel this way, why don't you go turn in your gun at Broward Sheriff's Office? I'll even drive you. And that's what spurred me to think. Even though he was being extremely sarcastic about it because he's a very staunch conservative, gun rights activist person, it kind of spurred me to say, you know what? Yeah, I'll do that.

On what he plans to do next

For me, to be honest, I'm not sure. It's a lot to process, and nothing that I had this grand master plan going into this for. So I'm happy that this sparked a debate and hopefully causes some action. I hope somebody - be it the students, be it the next generation - picks up the torch and does something.

NPR's Digital News intern Asia Simone Burns produced this story for the Web. NPR's Rachel Gotbaum and NPR's Kroc Fellow Adhiti Bandlamudi edited produced this story for broadcast.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a former student using a semi-automatic rifle, a lot of people reacted in ways you probably expected. But Ben Dickmann, who lives nearby in Fort Lauderdale, did something he didn't expect to do. He turned in his own semi-automatic weapon to the sheriff's office and asked them to destroy it. He posted about it on Facebook, and that post has now gone viral. It's been shared more than 100,000 times. And Ben Dickmann is with us now from his home in Florida.

Mr. Dickmann, thanks so much for speaking with us.

BEN DICKMANN: My pleasure.

MARTIN: Now, you were telling us that you'd been hunting since you were a kid growing up in Wisconsin. But you bought this particular weapon - I guess it's an AR-57 - when you moved to Florida. How come?

DICKMANN: I do enjoy target practice at the range with other types of guns, and I had friends who had had AR-15s and have AR-15s and had shot theirs before and enjoyed it. And the opportunity presented itself to buy one of my own, so I thought I would. I did. I enjoyed having it. And the time came where I felt I didn't need to have that anymore, and I didn't feel that anybody else did, either.

MARTIN: As I mentioned, you've written - you actually wrote two Facebook posts about it...

DICKMANN: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...And you said that, you know, no person needs this. I will be the change I want to see in this world. If our lawmakers will continue to close their eyes and open their wallets, I will lead by example. Talk a little bit more about that, if you would.

DICKMANN: It's come after a lot of soul searching. Everybody always says - you know, it's the big argument right now - everybody's offering thoughts and prayers but nothing else. And I thought, well, this is something I can do that I think is right. And it's something I can do that might spark a change. You know, my whole goal was maybe to inspire one friend on my Facebook page to do the same thing. And maybe that friend would inspire one other person. And who knows? I totally didn't expect for this to go the way it did and as fast as it did.

MARTIN: Just to sort of clarify for folks - the AR-57 that you own is a caliber variant of the AR-15, and that's...

DICKMANN: Correct.

MARTIN: ...A weapon that we've heard a lot about.

DICKMANN: Correct.

MARTIN: So was it hard to get?

DICKMANN: No, it was very easy to get - especially here in Florida with the way the laws are set up. It was - pretty much, I saw it in a gun store. I had my concealed weapons permit, which allows me to buy any kind of a gun that's legally ownable there on the spot. So I bought it.

MARTIN: And what about getting that concealed weapons permit where you live? Was that hard to get?

DICKMANN: No. The concealed weapons permit program here in the state of Florida, as far as I'm concerned, is a joke. Literally, it's three hours of PowerPoint, and then you go down to the range with a very, very low caliber handgun, and you have to put five out of 10 rounds on a paper plate at five feet. Probably half the class that I had are people that had never touched a gun before in their life.

MARTIN: So was it a eureka moment that - where you said to yourself - I mean, I'm asking, like, what was your thought process about - it's - I've got to get rid of this thing?

DICKMANN: After Las Vegas, I had thought long and hard about it, and thought, well, you know, it's not hurting anything sitting in my gun safe here. But it wasn't really until this last tragedy at Stoneman Douglas where it really hit home with us - and me.

Actually, one of my friends on Facebook rather sarcastically said, well, if you really feel this way, why don't you go turn in your gun at Broward Sheriff's Office? I'll even drive you. And that's what spurred me to think. Even though he was being extremely sarcastic about it because he's a very staunch conservative, gun rights activist person, it kind of spurred me to say, you know what? Yeah, I'll do that.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, where does this go next for you?

DICKMANN: For me, to be honest, I'm not sure. It's a lot to process, and nothing that I had this grand master plan going into this for. So I'm happy that this sparked a debate and hopefully causes some action. I hope somebody - be it the students, be it the next generation - picks up the torch and does something.

MARTIN: That's Ben Dickmann. He's a Florida gun owner. He decided to turn in his military-style rifle, similar to the one used in the Parkland school shooting, to the Broward Sheriff's Office along with 2 50 round magazines. And he said he was inspired to do this by recent events.

Ben Dickmann, thanks so much for speaking with us.

DICKMANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.