"Think about the motto, ‘armed gays don’t get bashed.’ There’s a lot of truth to that,” says Piper Smith. “Wouldn’t it be great to see more headlines where, instead of someone getting bashed, you read about some LGBT people who got chased into an alley and instead of getting bashed they pull a pistol and scare them off? Wouldn’t it be great to see more headlines like that?” It’s a question Smith has been asking herself a lot lately.
The El Cajon native who characterizes herself as a “little-L libertarian” has been a proponent of gun-rights and the “self-defense mindset” her whole life.
“When I was growing up, the firearms in the home were always for self-defense,” Smith says. “It was always normal for me.”
Smith, along with her girlfriend Carissa Schmidt, recently started a local chapter of Pink Pistols, a national, pro-firearm organization that, according to its website, is “dedicated to the legal, safe and responsible use of firearms for self-defense of the sexual-minority community.” Smith and Schmidt are more than aware that being pro-gun makes them a bit of a minority within a minority and runs counter to what much of the LGBT community believes. Yet both claim they’ve seen a bit of shift in attitude lately. Schmidt cites recent events as the catalyst for the newfound interest in groups like Pink Pistols.
“The day of the Orlando shooting remains a painful memory which won’t fade any time soon,” says Schmidt, who once worked at a local shooting range, but had actually never shot a gun until she met Smith. “Piper and I, like so many others across the country, knew that we had not only a desire but a necessity to do our part in helping protect ourselves and others from having this happen again. That begins with our own city, and when the Craigslist threats for San Diego appeared shortly after, we knew all too well that it could happen here, too. We realized we could connect people with instructors of firearm fundamentals and other self-defense classes, and instill within them the knowledge, if they only seek it. The demand for this is loud, and we’re responding.”
And according to both women, people are responding. Just as anti-gun LGBT groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and Gays Against Guns have seen a spike in memberships and followers on social media, so too have groups like Pink Pistols. Membership in the 45 nationwide Pink Pistols chapters has more than doubled since Orlando. Since starting the San Diego chapter on June 15, Smith has added more than 200 members.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with just how open people have been to the self-defense message involving firearms,” Smith says. “I think the LGBT left-wing community is much more open to having a conversation about firearms than the left-wing community at large. I think that’s obviously tied to the LGBT community being a minority which has been targeted for entirely too long.”
Some LGBT gun advocates—like Stonewall Shooting Sports of Utah president Scott Mogilefsky—have argued for armed security personnel at nightclubs. Local Pink Pistols member Paige Biron agrees.
“I think it’s a good idea,” says Biron, a former Marine who teaches gun safety classes. “At venues in Europe, there are police there. I don’t see any reason why a nightclub owner couldn’t have one or two employees trained with firearms inside a club here.”
However, some professionals in the industry disagree. Manny Marquez is the vice president of Nightclub Security Consultants, a local firm specializing in training security guards and club bouncers.
“We generally recommend against that,” Marquez says. “What club owners often have to do is hire off-duty police officers or ODOs who are doing it for extra money. You might think you’re getting a police officer, but in reality you’re getting a guy who just worked eight hours and they often don’t perform as they should because it’s a second gig.”
What’s more, it’s illegal in San Diego to carry a concealed firearm on California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control-licensed premises. So barring some drastic change in the law, clubs won’t be able to have armed security even if they wanted them.
Further complicating matters for pro-gun groups is the recent ruling in the case of Peruta v. San Diego County. Just three days before the Orlando club shootings, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a lower court ruling that challenged the city’s restrictive policy pertaining to issuing concealed carry weapons permits (CCW). Essentially, the San Diego County Sherriff’s Department didn’t consider self-defense a suitable enough reason on its own to issue a CCW. The language in the policy required the CCW applicant to show “good cause” for why they needed the permit, which is often difficult to prove. In June, the court ruled 7-4 that “there is no Second Amendment right for members of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public” and thus upheld the county’s current system of permit issuance. Put simply, even if an LGBT person owned a firearm, it’s unlikely they’d ever be able to use it to prevent a hate crime much less carry it on their person.
While Peruta v. San Diego County has been appealed, it seems clear that whether members of the LGBT community believed in gun control or are staunch Second Amendment defenders, the Orlando massacre and the continuous gun violence since has only served to further solidify or intensify the stances of both sides.
“Orlando happened just as the district court ruled that we didn’t have the right to carry a firearm for self defense outside of the home,” says Smith, who is quick to add that she thinks people who apply to get CCWs should also have firearm training. “It’s not just about an Orlando scenario, it’s about all the other scenarios; the alley scenarios. It’s extremely infuriating to be a woman who has had people threaten her life. I’ve had people spit in my face and call me an abomination. And then to have the sheriff of your county say you don’t have ‘good cause’ to carry the tools necessary to defend yourself. It’s just infuriating.”