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Intersections: do gays need guns?

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Of the more-than 33,000 gun-related deaths per year in the US, on average, 33% is the proportion made up of LGBTQ+ individuals - though US Census data estimates the gay community makes up about 3 to 5% of the overall, national population.

For perspective, last year the nation’s opioid epidemic killed 33,091 people – that’s one overdose death every 15 minutes.

Hate crimes based on sexual orientation accounted for 18.6% of the overall total in 2015, according to the FBI. Combined with hate crimes based on gender identity, that accounts for one-fifth of all reported hate crimes.

These are the facts - but consensus on how to respond is hard to find.

Close to home

High volumes of publicized shootings over the past two years have injected new energy in the gun control debate. None, perhaps, as starkly as the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Miami on June 12, 2016.

Fifty people, including the shooter, lost their lives in the incident. Most of the victims were young Latino men in their 20s and 30s. They represented America’s and the community’s diversity. One was a Starbucks barista, a UPS man and a gay cruise promoter. One was a telemarketer, another a pharmacy tech. One worked at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The youngest victim was celebrating her high school graduation. It was the worst mass shooting in national history.

The Pulse shooting also highlighted a recent uptick of violence targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

Reported LGBT homicides rose by 20 % in the US between 2014 and 2015, according to a recent study by The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Of the homicides reported last year, 62% were LGBT people of color and 54% of all hate-violence related to LGBT homicides were transgender women of color.

Transgender women face epidemic rates of murder and violent crime. Hate crimes are on the rise throughout the US, with 20% of hate crimes reported nationally targeting people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, gay men report being victims of violent hate crimes at higher rates than any other targeted group, and these crimes are more violent and result in hospitalization more often.

“Of course the LGBT community has a stake in gun issues,” says Terry Roethlein, Gays Against Guns (GAG) media co-chair.

GAG, based in New York City, is one of several advocacy organizations and publications calling for stricter gun control laws. According to their website, their mission includes “sensible and meaningful gun reform” including a ban on assault weapons and criminal background checks for all gun sales.

“We need everyone involved in gun issues,” advises GAG’s Roethlein. He calls for ending “the chain of death” he says is created by gun manufacturers and their investors. Gridlock can be broken up at local levels he says.

“We have chapters in 13 locations, including New York, Washington, DC; New Jersey, Provincetown, Los Angeles, and now Orlando,” Roethlein says. Gays Against Guns participated in the Jan. 20 Women’s March in Washington, DC.

Education is a key element of Roethlein‘s plan.

“Guns are easier to get than a driver’s license,” he laments. “Why can’t we require training for a device so deadly? he asks. Other than the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence named after James "Jim" Brady, who was permanently disabled as a result of President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 assassination attempt, there have few gun education efforts able to sustain a dialogue.

By Any Means Necessary

But there are voices on the other end of the argument. More militant organizations like the Pink Panther Movement are calling on the gay community to take matters into their own hands.

“Arm Yourselves,” declared Todd Haley II in a written statement. He is the president of the Pink Panther Movement, based in Denver. “...we have opted to let queer folk know that they should be trained and educated on the use of firearms.”

Haley says he respects the more anti-gun stance taken by other organizations but believes self-defense is not only the gay community’s right but in its best interest.

“Armed queers don’t get bashed,” he stated. “If a hetero-supremacist wants to kill you, you try and kill them right back...you just be smarter than they are about it.”

Founded in 2012, the Pink Panther Movement is a revival of the New York City-based Pink Panther Patrol and similar organizations, which spawned after anti-gay violence reached new heights during the apex of the AIDS epidemic. The original Pink Panthers disbanded after losing a lawsuit with MGM over its name (the studio owns the rights to the Pink Panther movies from the 1960s and 1970s).

Haley said he started the organization after seeing another uptick in violence against the gay community, recalling the direct action tactics of the old Patrol.

“(We) began to see the increasing need for patrol units once again to fill the streets of every major city, both nationally and globally.”

Self defense is a high priority for Pink Pistols, a national LGBTQ+ gun group.

The group dates to 2000 when gay author and journalist Jonathan Rauch wrote an article for Salon.com calling for gay people to "set up Pink Pistols task forces," get licensed to carry guns and arm themselves to protect their community."

"Not all that many gay people would need to carry guns, as long as gay-bashers couldn't tell which ones did," Rauch wrote.

The Pink Pistols, operating as a loosely organized, national LGBT gun group, has received mostly negative responses from the broader gay community. Some gat community centers have banned the Pink Pistols from using their facilities.

Jonathan Fischer, a 38-year-old TV editor, is a Pink Pistol.

Post-Orlando massacre, he enrolled in a defensive handgun class, according to the LA Times, with a Glock 27 pistol on his hip, wearing a T-shirt with a rainbow-colored AK-47. Then he started a West Hollywood chapter of the Pink Pistols.

"If someone was to try and break into my home, and especially if someone were armed, I don't want to fight back with a kitchen knife," Fischer said. "And I don't think that's extremist or crazy."