Weapons sales and membership in a group calling on gays and lesbians to arm themselves in self-defense against homophobic attacks have surged since the massacre at a gay nightclub in Florida last weekend.
The group, the Pink Pistols, announced last week a tripling in acknowledged members in the five days since a gunman killed 49 people and injured 53 in an attack on Pulse in Orlando in the early hours of 12 June.
The Pink Pistols, a gun club predominantly for LGBT members and their supporters, promotes “legal, safe and responsible use of firearms for self defense of the sexual minority community” according to its website.
A senior Pink Pistols member said that if patrons had been armed at the Orlando nightclub they might have prevented the shooting or minimized loss of life.
“I think there is a possibility that it could have prevented it … or helped to make the death toll less. If we could have sent one more person home to their family alive instead of in a body bag that would have been something,” said Gwen Patton, a spokeswoman for the Pink Pistols.
Patton said that membership of the group’s Facebook page had tripled from 1,500 before the Orlando massacre to 4,500 by Thursday. But with no formal registration system or fees for joining the Pink Pistols, there were no reliable membership numbers available for the group itself, she said.
The apparent surge in interest in guns from the LGBT community comes as posters and flags have been reported at a number of locations, including streets in Los Angeles’s gay neighborhood West Hollywood and outside a controversial event in Orlando, depicting a rainbow version of the revolutionary war-era Gadsden Flag – a flag more usually associated with Tea Party conservatives than with gay rights activism.
Some of the Gadsden symbols seen deploy the anti-government slogan “Don’t tread on me” beneath the traditional image of a snake poised to strike, while others have substituted a seeming call to arms via social media, “#ShootBack”, on a rainbow-striped background, the color scheme long ago adopted by the gay equality movement.
Meanwhile, gun dealers and firearms trainers in Colorado reported an increase in sales of guns to LGBT customers locally since the Orlando attack, a new twist on the phenomenon of weapons sales and manufacturers’ shares rising after mass shootings and terrorist attacks, often in response to political debate about gun safety.
The Pink Pistols has 45 chapters across the US that generally meet once a month, with members and supporters also in Canada and other countries.
“I was appalled by the killing in Orlando. I was enraged, hurt and saddened, but I know this is not going to be the last [attack],” Patton said.
The Pink Pistols promotes gun-carrying for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people as “an act of individual responsibility and as the best tool for getting out of a criminal encounter unharmed”, she said.
The group’s slogan is “Pick on someone your own caliber”, and it issued a statement in the aftermath of the massacre that said the event was “exactly the kind of heinous act that justifies the existence” of Pink Pistols.
“I’m desperately trying to do something to protect who I consider to be my people, who are being targeted and hurt in this fashion,” Patton said.
A member of the group since 2001 and currently involved with the chapter in Philadelphia, Patton said she believed that being trained to carry a gun increased her personal safety “but there are some who disagree with me on that”.
She pointed out that guns were banned from Pulse and the off-duty law enforcement individual who is the only person reported to have fired at the gunman before on-duty law enforcement arrived on the scene had been unable to take down the shooter single-handedly.
“The other people there could not legally have a weapon because the law prevents carrying of firearms in a bar. But I would like to see it changed so that at least if we are not drinking we should be able to carry a gun in a bar,” Patton said.
Patton said the Pink Pistols was founded in 2000 in Boston by a small group of friends, partly in response to an article published on the Salon website by writer and Brookings Institution senior fellow Jonathan Rauch.
Rauch’s article coined the phrase “pink pistols” in the context of urging lesbians and gay people to carry licensed, concealed weapons for protection against gay-bashing of assumed “helpless victims”, and to combat an image of weakness as “the defining stereotype of homosexuality”.
Rauch said on Thursday that his views expressed in the article still stood.
“Being able to rely on ourselves for self-defense is an important part of standing up for ourselves,” he said.
He said that the gay pro-gun lobby and a group like Pink Pistols were generally “different from traditional National Rifle Association-oriented places” and often attracted non-gay supporters who were “uncomfortable with the aggressive all-or-nothing culture of the NRA”.
However, the Pink Pistols Facebook page on Thursday was alive with posts supporting unfettered gun rights and decrying renewed efforts to strengthen gun control or ban powerful assault weapons in the wake of the Orlando tragedy.