In last week's 5-4 decision the Supreme Court overturned the ban on privately-owned handguns in Washington DC. While the debate will continue over whether the Second Amendment means that American citizens only have the right to bear arms as a well-regulated militia (as referenced in the amendment) or whether we have the right to keep a loaded handgun irrespective of circumstances, right now it is the law of the land.
For those American citizens who reside in congested crime-ridden urban areas riddled with drug and gang warfares, as I do, this recent ruling brings a heightened concern about personal safety. But this ruling also heightens concerns 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 homeys and shoot the hell out of us,” Adam Williams told me. Williams is an African American trans male who has been the victim of both gay-bashing and racial violence. Feeling more vulnerable than ever in his life with this recent Supreme Court ruling Williams tell me he’s going to 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,” Williams told me, referring to the news about the cop beat down of Duanna Johnson, an African American transwoman, in a Memphis booking room that was captured on a surveillance video. “I’d be stupid not to go packing now.”
Williams lives in Oakland, just outside of San Francisco, and he’s going to check out the San Francisco chapter of Pink Pistols. As a national organization that encourages lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender 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, which is: can gun-toting 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,” Jeff Soyer, a Pistols member of the Vermont chapter told Alternate 101, an LGBTQ publication.
Libertarian activist Douglas Krick founded pink Pistols in the anti-gun town of Boston. Although Pink Pistols has 48 chapters in 32 states and 2 countries it is not well received here in Boston, one of the most gay-friendly, 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 OK Corral,” stated Sue Hyde of the Boston office of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to Southern Voices in 2002.
But Jonathan Rauch, the gay journalist whose March 13, 2000 Salon article the Pink Pistols borrowed its name from, thinks differently. And he illustrates his point by reminding us of the 1998 killing of Mathew 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 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 Jewish Defense League, all movements in response to hate crimes and discrimination against their groups. And their advocacy for guns is understandable.
Self-defense is a human right. And great spiritual leaders have spoken out on the subject. 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.” According to Luke 22:36, Jesus said: “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. Organizations like the Pink Pistols offer a seemingly viable tool to stem gay violence. Of course 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. What guns do, perhaps, is signal to us that we might need to take another course of action.