LGBT Self-Defense Site 'Pink Pistols' Gains Followers After Orlando Massacre
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
While the gun debate goes on in Congress, several pro-gun groups are calling on people to arm themselves. That includes the LGBT group The Pink Pistols. NPR's John Burnett reports the group's been around for more than 15 years, and it's seeing a huge response right now.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: In the days since the Pulse Nightclub slaughter, the Facebook page of Pink Pistols has grown from 1,500 members to more than 7,000.
GWENDOLYN PATTON: I've been thinking of this as the gay community's 9/11.
BURNETT: Gwendolyn Patton is a lesbian and former high-tech worker who's now disabled and volunteers full time as the national organizer for Pink Pistols. She spoke by phone from her home in Philadelphia.
PATTON: I mean, this is the wake-up call that we are far more vulnerable than we originally thought.
BURNETT: Pink Pistols lists 36 chapters around the country on its website, but Patton says membership is informal. LGBT folks may get together for lunch and then go shoot at a gun range. The organization urged its supporters to get concealed pistol permits and learn how to shoot. A day after the Pulse murders, Patton wrote on their website, this is exactly the kind of heinous act that justifies our existence.
PATTON: Like we've been trying to do is trying to make some kind of good out of it to try to help people protect themselves, you know, not just feel safe but to actually be safe.
BURNETT: The group's web page has a map dotted with the names of more than 500 firearms instructors across the country who are LGBT friendly. Some, like Colt Marcum, a former Army sniper who lives in Orlando, are offering free shooting instruction for gay people. He had brought his rifle case to the Shoot Straight Gun Range where he was about to give a lesson.
COLT MARCUM: Today we're going to - at Shoot Straight, we're going to work on center mass shots which is right in the chest and just above the gut. It's drills that I ran my guys through, and she's been pretty proficient at it.
BURNETT: She is Victoria O'Keefe, a 17-year-old high school senior and a lesbian. Markham is her guardian.
VICTORIA O'KEEFE: It's really scary to hear that what, like, happened has happened. No one was expecting it, and it was technically a hate crime. So it - you know, everyone in the community kind of feels scared and horrifying.
BURNETT: After mass shootings, gun control advocates demand stricter laws, and gun rights champions want greater freedom to concealed carry in so-called gun-free zones. In this case, the homicides happened in a dance club. Florida does not allow firearms in a bar that makes more than half its profits from alcohol sales.
Gwen Patton of The Pink Pistols believes taverns should allow handgun carriers so long as they don't drink - a designated defender, if you will. President Obama weighed in with his own thoughts on that idea when he spoke in Orlando last week.
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BARACK OBAMA: The notion that the answer to this tragedy would be to make sure that more people in a nightclub are similarly armed to the killer defies common sense.
BURNETT: As an LGBT organization, Pink Pistols is shunned by the mainstream gay rights movement, and it often ends up on the same side as the NRA over court fights for greater gun rights. The Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest LGBT advocacy group, declined to comment on The Pink Pistols. A spokesman says the Human Rights Campaign has for the first time called for greater gun violence prevention measures.
BURNETT: At the recent candlelight vigil in downtown Orlando where rainbow flags flew proudly, I met a gay computer game designer named Jonathan Sanchez. As it happens, he owns two semi-automatic assault-style rifles. He says squeezing off rounds is calming. But would he back a call for more people in his community to carry concealed handguns for self-defense?
JONATHAN SANCHEZ: I really am one - not one to submit to fear. The necessity of saying every gay man should arm themselves - it's - I mean, it sounds just like that - a call to arms. So more people having them - no.
BURNETT: In 2014, the FBI reported there were 1,400 hate crimes in the U.S. based on sexual orientation. To that, The Pink Pistols website says, armed queers don't get bashed. John Burnett, NPR News.
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Correction June 26, 2016
A previous Web version of this story incorrectly referred to the founder of the Pink Pistols as a man.