Theyre Here, Theyre Queer, Theyre Armed

Orange Countys Pink Pistols are all for peace, love and understanding among straights and gays. Meantime, theyre taking target practice.

When the police finally came, one of them confided he was amazed at John's restraint, remarking that he would have "popped the guy."

"A gun is a huge responsibility," John says. "You have to be prepared to use it, and you have to want to avoid using it at all costs." Regarding the man he didn't shoot, that cost John a broken arm courtesy of one well-swung tire iron. Still, he thinks he did the right thing. "I didn't want to kill that man if I didn't have to."

Which is what he wants to teach those who come to Pink Pistols. John's the guy who will talk to new shooters about their level of experience and offer advice if wanted. He has been competing since his early 20s. He'll tell you that most right-handed people shoot down and to the left because they squeeze the trigger with too much finger. He'll tell you that the best way to shoot at a target or a person is standing at an angle so as not to give the person a clean shot at you. To shoot like a classic TV-drama cop—standing straight up and down, two arms stretched in front of you—is to offer up your head, chest and heart.

"It's called the isosceles triangle, and you don't want to do that," he says. When John is reminded that the Pink Pistols' black-and-pink logo is of a person shooting in exactly that position, he grimaces and sighs.

"That's why I'm here," he says.

* * *

That a gun club would commit such a geometrical faux pas is not so surprising when you consider the organization got its start in the mind of a man who has shot a gun just once, he thinks, though he can't be sure whether it was live ammo he was shooting.

"Thirty-one states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them," Jonathan Rauch wrote in Salon in March 2000. "They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible."

As the last line indicates, Rauch was saying that the appearance of strength was as important as strength itself. Consider straight America's response to the 1998 Shepard killing. "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."

Good intentions and hate-crime laws did nothing to help gays and lesbians because, Rauch wrote, they "do nothing to challenge the stereotype of the pathetic faggot. Indeed, they confirm it. By running to the heterosexual majority for protection, homosexuals reaffirm their vulnerability and victimhood."

"Guns," he wrote, would emancipate gays "from their image—often internalized—of cringing weakness."

Rauch, who writes for the National Journal and Atlantic Monthly and is writer in residence at the Brookings Institute, has written a lot of columns suggesting a lot of things, and he expected this to be just one more that goes out in the ether, scares up some discussion and then is gradually forgotten. This particular one, which ran under the headline "Pink Pistols," garnered some letters to the editor ranging from one gay man who said a gun had become "another item of apparel" to another who said that the Pink Pistols was "a fabulous idea. The gays will be able to shoot people who are about to bash them, and young gays who get depressed about living in a culture where people want to bash them will be able to shoot themselves."

Then Rauch received an e-mail from a Boston businessman named Doug Krick who said he was organizing the gun organization Rauch had described. Would Rauch mind if they used the name Pink Pistols?

Soon, Pink Pistols chapters were popping up everywhere—36 by August 2002—and not just in the large urban areas you'd expect, but in Moscow, Idaho; Asheville, North Carolina; and Anchorage, Alaska.

"I was as surprised as the next guy when it caught on," says Rauch, who has yet to talk with anyone from Pink Pistols, though he says he thinks he'd like to shoot with them someday. "I was not really writing about guns. I was writing about gays and how gays are tired of being the eternal victim."

* * *

The rise of the Pistols has proved a flinty issue for national gay organizations, most of which depend on support from straight, left-of-center patrons—the type of patrons who don't take kindly to anyone making like Gary Cooper.

"This movement puts gay groups between a rock and hard place," Rauch says. "I think they're uncomfortable with the premise, especially with how it makes their straight, liberal supporters feel. On the other hand, this is a true grassroots movement, which is all about self-empowerment, which is what the gay movement has been about. These groups don't know what to say."

Indeed, LAMDA, the nonprofit legal organization dedicated to civil rights for lesbians and gays, offered me only a terse "we wouldn't have any comment on that" from an unnamed spokesman, while David Smith, a senior strategist for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest gay and lesbian organization, says, "I think obviously it's an individual decision to protect yourself. The HRC is not going to weigh into that discussion."

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