It’s a new trend: Gays with Guns. And it’s a reaction to the Orlando terrorist attack. The Salt Lake Tribune reports:
Utahn Matt Schlentz first picked up a firearm when he was about 3 years old, taught how to shoot by his father. He started with BB guns, graduated to .22-caliber rifles, and now, at 23, has a concealed-carry permit, which he takes advantage of every day.
His gun collection includes semiautomatic rifles similar to the Sig Sauer MCX, the type of weapon Omar Mateen used during his deadly June 12 rampage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. As a strong Second Amendment supporter, Schlentz often is appalled when he reads about new gun-control laws being passed in other states.
“In California, they’re literally policing what capacity magazines you can have,” Schlentz says. “It’s absolutely asinine.”
Schlentz, an out and proud gay man, is president of the Utah chapter of the Pink Pistols, a national pro-gun LGBT organization. He’s well aware that in some ways, telling gay friends that he’s a staunch proponent of gun rights is kind of like coming out of the closet all over again.
“I get mixed reviews,” Schlentz says. “I don’t flaunt it, so people who’ve known me for years are surprised when they find out I carry a gun. Some think it’s really cool. And then I get people who just give me dirty looks. But I absolutely respect their right to feel that way.”
While lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities often are perceived as politically liberal, they’re not monolithic — witness the existence of the Log Cabin Republicans. On the surface, it may be easy to believe that gay people largely would support gun limits, especially since one of the movement’s early icons, Harvey Milk, was shot to death by an assassin in 1978.
But after the high-profile 1998 kidnapping and murder of Matthew Shepard, some in the community began speaking about self-defense measures. In 2000, Pink Pistols started in Massachusetts as a response to these kinds of violent incidents; “Queers bash back” and “Pick on someone your own caliber” were two early slogans. Sixteen years later, there are active Pink Pistols chapters in more than 30 U.S. cities, as well as in Canada and South Africa.
In the days after Orlando, Schlentz was flooded with requests for information and membership. Gun-range operators have reached out and offered to work with Pink Pistols on safety and training courses. Before Orlando, national Pink Pistols membership numbered around 1,500. After the shootings, that figure ballooned to 4,000, Schlentz says.
“It’s really sad that something on this scale had to happen for people to realize this is a need for our community,” Schlentz says. “But the reality is, we still get attacked for kissing our partners or holding hands in public. We get windows smashed for having an equality sticker on them.
“Obviously, as a gay man, I have to have some liberal views socially, but on this one point, I have very conservative views. The reality is what it is — the world is a violent, terrible, scary place, and people do wish me harm based on who I love.”
While Pink Pistols emphasizes self-defense, another pro-gun rights LGBT organization in the state, Stonewall Shooting Sports of Utah, focuses more on firearm safety and sport shooting. The group, founded in 2002, has about 120 members. President Scott Mogilefsky, a six-year Army veteran, says he’s also seen an uptick in inquiries since Orlando.
“As awful as Orlando is, I feel like this is a huge eye-opener for a lot of people that the world is not a perfect place, especially for a group that’s at risk for this kind of violence,” says Mogilefsky, 41.
Named after the New York City gay bar where a 1969 uprising against police harassment often is considered the flash point of modern LGBT activism, Mogilefsky says Stonewall Shooting Sports also gets strong reactions from the gay community.
“I’ve heard people say we spread hate and violence just because we’re pro-gun. Look, everyone has a right. We’re all-inclusive. We teach people how to shoot and to have fun and to know how to operate a gun backwards and forwards.”
Mogilefsky argues that what happened in Orlando either could have been prevented or lessened had the patrons in Pulse, or at least the employees, been armed.
“Security should be armed at all gay nightclubs, and all employees should run through a defensive shooting course once a year,” Mogilefsky says. “When you think about supremacist groups, a gay bar is an easy target. And the shooter knew that. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.”
Mogilefsky also believes that the legal recognition of gay marriage and a society that’s grown more accepting of LGBT people have created a false sense of security.
“We all have to be watchful. When I go to a movie, I carry, and I look for the exits. I don’t think that the LGBT community knows what it means to be situationally aware. And that’s where the guard is dropped, that’s where people can falter.”