Gays & guns

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RAY CARTER GAZES thoughtfully at the rifle he's holding—a powerful weapon that looks like one of those Winchesters Chuck Conners brandished on the old TV

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Gays & guns

NRA members and queers get together at a shooting range in Redmond.

  • Gays & guns

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    RAY CARTER GAZES thoughtfully at the rifle he's holding—a powerful weapon that looks like one of those Winchesters Chuck Conners brandished on the old TV series The Rifleman. Only this gun looks bigger, like it would have the kick of an enraged kangaroo. At least, that's what I thought as I stood there with a pair of hot-pink "ears," those deafening headset contraptions like ground crews wear at the airport in order to dampen the cacophony. I was considering whether or not to try Big Bertha out. "I guess you have to be genetically predisposed to like things that go bang," Carter says.

    We're talking at the rifle range at the Interlake Rod & Gun Club, a cozy hideaway tucked on the backside of Rose Hill in the semirural no-man's-land between Kirkland and Redmond. In today's techno-burbs, the club is an anachronism: a downscale, old-fashioned shooting range in a little valley where the flying bullets safely plow into dirt berms and where the trees shelter shooters from the half-million dollar homes nearby. It's a down-home kind of place, and today we have it all to ourselves.

    "We" meaning this Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-friendly shooting group, brought together by an organization called Cease Fear. After brunch at the Rosebud Caf頯n Capitol Hill, the group found its way across the big bad lake for one of its periodic target shoots—a low-key affair for mostly novice shooters. The difference, of course, is that this is turf where the NRA meets Gay Pride. Oh yes, and some people wear hot-pink headsets.

    CEASE FEAR BEGAN, appropriately enough in the Silicon Forest, as an online idea. Gun owner discussion groups became a great way for some of the newer and younger of the "gun community" to meet each other. Some, like Ray Carter, a former cochair of Pride's Freedom Day Committee, were longtime gun enthusiasts who happened to be gay. Others were gun-owning liberals or libertarians, such as Don Baldwin, a Redmond straight guy and cofounder of a fledgling group called Democrats for the Second Amendment. Most seem to have high-tech jobs and are interested in guns for recreation, like competing in shooting tournaments that sound like off-line versions of video games.

    The idea behind Cease Fear is to move guns out of the redneck realm and make safety and self-defense training available to various "minority" communities, including gays and lesbians. Last fall, with event cosponsors that included the Microsoft Gun Club, the Jewish Defense League, and the state Libertarian Party, Cease Fear held classes at Home Alive. One of these, "Refuse to be a Victim," was developed by the National Rifle Association and is aimed at women. As much as anything, it teaches people how to see trouble coming and avoid it. They also offered a home firearm safety course that teaches the rules of the road to anyone thinking of picking up a gun, even if it's only to get rid of it.

    The NRA contends it doesn't care who gets the training, a gun owner is a gun owner. "We don't ask gender or gender preference," says NRA spokesman Jim Manown when asked about gay membership in the organization. "Personally, I run into all sorts of individuals." The rub is that many gays and lesbians might never feel totally comfortable with an organization whose political supporters include a lot of right-wing homophobes. Thus, Cease Fear acts as a bridge between the two communities, promoting safety and gun ownership without the baggage of the NRA.

    But with or without the NRA, some gays are decidedly pro-gun—or at least pro-self-defense. A recent article on Salon, "Pink Pistols" by Jonathan Rauch, makes the case for gays being armed. In response to mounting hate crimes and gay-bashing incidents, Rauch argues that guns not only can protect gays, but transform them, just as self-defense has empowered Jews. "Guns can do the same thing for homosexuals: emancipate them from their image—often internalized—of cringing weakness. Pink pistols, I'll warrant, would do far more for the self-esteem of the next generation of gay men and women than any number of hate crime laws or antidiscrimination statutes."

    Rauch writes, "Let's make gay bashing dangerous."

    That urge, that sense of empowerment, is captured on the logo Cease Fear plans to unveil at this year's Pride Parade: a pink fist holding a handgun with the words, "Bash This!"

    THERE'S NO QUESTION that armed gays is a radical thought. In the heartland, folks bristle at the idea of godless homos with handguns—much the same way armed Black Panthers weren't welcomed in Ronald Reagan's gun-happy Sacramento. In Seattle, mention gays and guns and people give you that "they should know better" look. To many Seattleites, all guns are bad and no one should have them. But then, the average Seattleite isn't as likely to wind up beaten and tied to a fence as Matthew Shepard.

    But at Interlake Rod & Gun the whole gays-with-guns thing seems less, well, loaded. Brian Landsberger, a twentysomething sporting Kool-Aid green hair, tells me "gun control is a personal issue, not a legislative issue," likening it to abortion or sexual preference. It's not a political statement, just a choice. The folks at the LGBT-friendly shoot-around, which also involves nongays, including a disabled woman whose companion dog is trained to stand up and support her from behind while she shoots, seem mostly absorbed in their own interests. They're there for the same reason other gun owners spend a Sunday at the range: Some are rookies trying out different kinds of weapons; others are practicing for the day when they may feel the need to defend themselves; some are honing their target-shooting skills. And some are there just for the "genetic" pleasures of making things go bang.

    For more information on LGBT-friendly trainings, contact Cease Fear, PO Box 13666, Mill Creek, WA 98082; 329-8248.

     
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