Graphic Illustration by Christopher Ikonomou (Xe/He)
The subject of guns rarely comes up in queer spaces, and it’s no mystery why: right wingers dominate the discourse on self-defense, gun ownership, and Second Amendment rights, and their record on queer positivity has been… shaky, to say the absolute least. Guns are a conservative issue in most spaces, and “self-defense” is often interpreted as a non-issue or a dogwhistle for gun-nuttery, leaving the topic largely absent in progressive, queer-positive spaces. This aversion seems only further justified by incidents such as the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, the Kyle Rittenhouse murders, and the almost daily incidence of mass shootings — committed almost exclusively, though not always, by white, far-right gunmen. Pulse was a huge moment for queer folks in the US, serving as a deadly reminder of the violence we may be exposed to. For years, “guns kill gays” has been the dominant narrative within most queer spaces regarding firearms, leading queer voters to strongly favor gun control.
Since 2016, though, things have significantly changed; far-right militias and fascist gangs have gained mainstream recognition, QAnon conspiracy theorists are in the White House, and the entire world is threatened by a deadly pandemic — all of this occurring in the shadow of nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other police murders. Though our political climate has changed, our policy positions are struggling to keep up. While the “defund the police” slogan gained considerable traction within progressive spaces, a passive support for gun control continues to be accepted. This is inconsistent for many reasons, but for now, let’s just consider what the evidence suggests.
Let’s think for a moment about who law enforcement tends to focus on. At almost every level, marginalized groups are disproportionately targeted, in no small part due to urban planning measures that concentrate poverty in dense, urban areas. Now let’s look at the demographic makeup of American gun owners. Unsurprisingly, white men are particularly likely to own firearms, and men generally arm up more than women. This trend is even more pronounced in rural areas where gun ownership is normalized and encouraged. Assuming the accuracy of these two general trends, stricter gun control would probably result in a systematic disarming of oppressed groups while leaving militia groups, white supremacists, and right-wing vigilantes largely untouched. This was more or less the intended effect of the Mulford Act, a bill signed by then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1967, which banned the public carrying of loaded firearms. Garnering bipartisan support and the enthusiastic endorsement of the National Rifle Association, the bill was an explicit response to the Black Panther Party’s increased militancy, as “copwatching” patrols began to make white law enforcement squeamish. Given the political and ethical problems with a racial firearms ban, it’s fair to say that we might need a different approach going forward.
Knowing what we do now, we need to realize the importance of self-defense in our struggle against systems that cause us harm. No, I don’t think we should shoot for universal gun ownership, but in a world where cops are out to get us and domestic terrorist groups are an ever-present danger, queer folks are not in a great position to outsource our own safety. We can’t afford a myopic focus on the passage of assault rifle bans and background checks, as fascists zoom through red flag laws right into a classroom with guns literally blazing. Even with “45” out of office, the legislative process is too slow to realistically secure our safety, so we’ll have to invest our efforts elsewhere.
Groups such as Armed Equality and the Pink Pistols provide self-defense training and resources to help queer folks learn how to handle firearms safely, pick out appropriate equipment, and, ultimately, protect themselves. “The more people know that members of our community may be armed, the less likely they will be to single us out for attack,” reads the Pink Pistols “About” page, a core sentiment broadly shared by other queer self-defense organizations. Queer influencers and content creators, such as Tacticool Girlfriend, have also started sharing their knowledge and experiences through detailed video essays on YouTube, most of which emphasize the importance of safety and moderation. Most of this information is freely available, and chapters of the aforementioned volunteer organizations exist in almost every state.
Unlike most traditional gun clubs and militia groups, the queer self-defense community is largely focused on practical, safe, and appropriate use of self-defense tools — lethal and non-lethal. The “gun culture” associated with private gun shows, competitive shooting sports, and private militias is largely absent from these spaces, likely due to the fact that marginalized people can’t afford to be gun nuts. Shopping for a gun when your life is in danger requires more consideration than buying a big fancy rifle for fun.
As we move into a new decade, good-faith conversations about how we defend ourselves against violent threats without the help of benevolent cops are absolutely vital. Guns are scary, and proper use demands more maintenance and training than a good number of people are willing to put in, myself included. Much like with cannabis and alcohol, though, prohibition does nothing to ease those concerns. Education — whether through well-produced video essays or through socially-distanced, COVID-conscious, in-person training — is the most constructive way to move forward, especially with such a controversial issue.
After listening to numerous accounts from very close friends (whose privacy I want to respect), I’m convinced that guns can be used to de-escalate situations that otherwise would turn violent, ultimately saving queer lives. My intention is not to convince anyone to buy a firearm, as I’m completely unqualified to do so, and I certainly don’t want to argue for “bashing back” as a uniform solution; however, if possible, and assuming it’s safe for you to do so, talk to queer folks about self-defense. Understanding our experiences and extending support to people in need is how we build a better community, and every one of us can be a part of that process. In the end, this conversation isn’t just about gun control or concealed carry permits; it’s about staying safe, saving queer lives, and protecting each other from harm.