In a 5-4 decision handed down June 26, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own a gun for personal use.
While the debate will continue as to whether the Second Amendment really means that Americans only have the right to bear arms in connection with service in a well-regulated militia, as referenced in the amendment, or if we indeed have the right to keep a loaded handgun for self-defense, for now the latter is the law of the land.
For those citizens who reside in congested, crime-ridden urban areas riddled with drug and gang warfare, as I do, this recent ruling brings a heightened concern about personal safety. It also brings a heightened concern about personal safety for those of us who rely on hate crimes laws to protect us from the bigoted actions of our fellow citizens.
“I can see some crazed fool come into a bar where gays hang out — or my homies — and shoot the hell out of us,” Adam Williams told me. Williams is an African-American trans male who has been a victim of both gay-bashing and racial violence. Feeling more vulnerable than ever with this recent Supreme Court ruling, Williams tell me he’s going to start carrying a gun with him.
“Ain’t nothing out here to protect you now. I don’t trust the cops ‘cause they beat the shit out of you with other officers watching,” he said, referring to the news about the cop beat down of Duanna Johnson, an African-American trans woman. The assault in a Memphis booking room was captured on surveillance video. “I’d be stupid not to go packing now.”
Williams lives in Oakland, Calif., just outside of San Francisco, and he’s going to check out the San Francisco chapter of Pink Pistols, a national organization that encourages LGBT to arm themselves to prevent hate crimes. The Pink Pistols are also a social gun club. On the San Francisco Pink Pistols website it invites the community to learn how to shoot.
“We are a group of primarily gay shooters, who are welcoming to all. One need not be an experienced shooter, nor own a firearm. So if you are interested in learning to shoot in a non-threatening gay friendly environment (one member is a certified firearm instructor) then click on for the date of our next shoot.”
Pink Pistols brandishes the motto “Armed gays don’t get bashed” and “Pick on someone your own caliber.”
Their message is a hot-button issue swirling in the LGBTQ community: namely, can gun-totting solve gay-bashing?
“They’re trying to get urban gays and lesbians to not be afraid of the one instrument that, when used properly and legally, can save their lives,” said Jeff Soyer, a Pistols member of the Vermont chapter, to Alternate 101.
Libertarian activist Douglas Krick founded Pink Pistols in the anti-gun town of Boston. Although Pink Pistols has 48 chapters in 32 states and two countries, it is not well received in its hometown, one of the most gay-friendly, but crime-ridden cities in the country.
“I don’t believe arming ourselves is a sustainable response to a subculture of hate towards homosexuality. We are not going to settle our scores as a community by having a shoot-out at the O.K. Corral,” Sue Hyde of the Boston office of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force told Southern Voice in 2002.
But Jonathan Rauch, the gay journalist whose headline article in the March 13, 2000, edition of Salon magazine prompted the Pink Pistols name, thinks differently. He illustrates his point by reminding us of the 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard.
“Shepard was small, helpless and childlike. He never had a chance. This made him a sympathetic figure of a sort that is comfortingly familiar to straight Americans: the weak homosexual,” Rauch told The Orange County Weekly in 2003.
The Pink Pistols are considered the lunatic fringe of the LGBTQ community and are often compared to the Black Panthers and the Jewish Defense League, movements founded in response to hate crimes and discrimination against their members. The Pink Pistols’ advocacy for guns is understandable.
Self-defense is a human right. Great spiritual leaders have spoken clearly on the subject. For example, the Dalai Lama said, “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.” And Jesus stated in Luke 22:36, “Let him who hath no sword, let him sell his tunic and buy one.”
We feel most vulnerable when we have no means to defend ourselves from attacks both systematically and individually coming toward us. Organizations like the Pink Pistols offer a seemingly viable tool to stem gay violence.
However, guns will never be the great equalizer for an embattled group. They may for a fleeting moment deter our enemies, but they will never permanently protect us from them. But guns do, however, signal to us that we might need to take another course of action.
The comparison of the Pink Pistols to the Black Panthers is not only ridiculous, but shows a fundamental misunderstanding of history. Unlike the Pink Pistols, whom are mostly a single-issue group, the Black Panthers were a comprehensive group, that beside their overtly militant image and open carrying of fire arms, did many other things in communities, including providing free-breakfasts, walking children to schools, as well as advocating broader governmental change.
The Pink Pistols have no similar comprehensive approach, though their individual members themselves might be involved or support larger issues. Instead, their focus is almost entirely on the idea that armed gays will provide a deterrent to overt and violent bashing incidents. Maybe, but its doubtful, considering the nature of many attacks (which overwhelmingly seem to target young, or below the legal carrying age, gays). It also mistakes the overt violence of gay bashers as a larger threat than the systematic exclusion of LGBT people from economic and civil life. There are simply far easier, and amazingly legal, ways to destroy the lives of gay people, and most of them are very obviously in force.
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