Pink Pistols — Queer Lives Are Worth Defending
A few years ago, I helped establish a chapter of Pink Pistols, a group of gays, lesbians, and friends who regularly get together to practice safe, legal and responsible use of firearms. Why? To begin with, “queer lives are worth defending.” I am such a big guy that muggers cross the street when they see me coming, but many of my friends are of slighter build; many have been mugged and/or beaten. We all know of gays and lesbians who have been beaten or even killed. It does little good to “dial 9-1-1 and pray” when one is faced with an immediate, violent, possibly deadly threat.
Guns have unique advantages for self-defense: they can be used by nearly anyone, regardless of size and strength; they require training, but not so much as most other martial arts; they inspire fear in the biggest of bullies. If worse should come to worst, if attackers are not deterred, the smallest defender can stop the biggest attacker.
Imagine a world with no firearms, and that world might be like the times of Genghis Khan – a time when highly trained and violent archers on horseback took whatever they wanted, unfettered by any opposition. Few peasants could afford horses and weapons, fewer still the many hours needed to become expert in their use. Firearms, by contrast, are very democratic – “Great Equalizers”, as Samuel Colt named them.
One of my favorite books is Negroes With Guns, by Robert F. Williams. In the 50s, Williams was President of the Monroe, NC chapter of the NAACP. The Ku Klux Klan in those days was large, numerous, armed, and dangerous – and local law enforcers were often members. By day, these LEOs would confiscate weapons from black families, and by night they’d return with friends, wearing sheets and terrorizing disarmed victims. Robert Williams organized his neighbors for self-defense; they acquired arms and practiced skills. Williams heard and refuted most every argument against this. The main argument was that resistance would lead to violent war, a “cycle of violence.” He replied that the KKK were bullies and cowards who would not risk their supposedly “superior” lives against armed “inferiors” – it would be too much a blow to their fragile egos. Experience proved him right. He also made it clear that their goal was not bloodshed, nor victory over others; they just wanted to be left in peace. So it is with Pink Pistols; we are not at war with anyone; we merely want to be left alone in peace.
Popular images of self-defense involve a hail of bullets, innocents caught in cross-fire, and blood in the streets. The reality is not nearly so suitable for Hollywood drama. According to analysis by Donald Kleck, “only 3% of criminal gun assaults involve anyone actually being wounded, even nonfatally, and the same is true of defensive gun uses. More commonly, guns are merely pointed at another person, or perhaps only referred to (‘I’ve got a gun’) or displayed, and this is sufficient to accomplish the ends of the user, whether criminal or non-criminal. […M]ost defensive uses of guns do not in fact involve shooting anyone. Data from the National Self-Defense Survey indicate that no more than 8% of the 2.5 million annual defensive gun uses involved a defender who claimed to have shot their adversaries, or about 200,000 total.” Kleck expressed concerns that this number may be high, but comports roughly with the 150,000 reported gun wound treatments, so is probably not too far off.
In addition to practical arguments, there are philosophical questions. What sort of society do we wish to live in? What would it take to abolish all weapons, given that we cannot even abolish drugs or weapons from prisons? Do we want to live in such a police state? Would it lead to the desired end, a safer society? Experience in the UK and other societies suggests otherwise. Some will say that the UK has lower rates of gun violence – but what about other forms of violence? The UK actually has knife control laws, because criminals readily substitute other weapons when guns are not easily available. It must be admitted, however, that total murder rates are still lower in the UK than in the USA. Does this prove the case for gun control? Not when you observe that those rates have always been lower, even when guns were freely available in the UK. Something other than availability of guns must explain the difference. We are often told that America has the highest rate of murder among “industrialized nations” – but a close look reveals that so-called “industrialized nations” are carefully cherry-picked. Many of my friends from South America – where no “industrialized nations” exist, allegedly – think American reporters are muy loco. Permit me to explain.
Back in 1999, I asked my then-boyfriend Javier his impressions of America. His reply startled me. “It’s so peaceful here,” he said. Pointing to the TV, which had been relentlessly showing interviews of everyone with an opinion about the Columbine shooting for over two weeks, every hour on every channel, he told me that “Back home in Medellin, this story would not have lasted four hours. It would have been replaced with another bombing, assassination, or kidnapping. It would have been old news.”
I was shocked to discover that Colombia had a murder rate 8 times greater than the USA, and the top rate for kidnappings. Top government officials were frequently assasinated. Colombia also had very strict gun control; it was simply impossible for civilians to legally own any sort of gun or ammunition without express permission from the military. They even had motorcycle control laws in Bogota, in an effort to stop two-man hit teams. This gave me a different perspective on American media. “Muy loco” indeed.
My friend Jose grew up in the comuna of Medellin, Colombia. That’s Spanish for the “wrong side of the tracks”, or the “barrio.” They had a serious problem with sicarios – sycophants in English – young assassins-for-hire. Their murder rate was eight times higher than that in America. So the military got smart and handed out weapons and ammo to “self-defense groups (Milicias Populares) that protected the comuna; they functioned as night watchers, they used conversation first to persuade the sicarios not to commit crimes; when talking did not work, they gave them warnings and deadlines to start behaving . . . after the deadline, the guys that did not follow the ‘advice’ were killed. These Milicias Populares spread fast from neighborhood to neighborhood because they proved they worked. They were easily identified because they were dressed all in black and had a red band on their arms. They protected people and people protected them. When all the major gangs ‘reinserted’ themselves into society, the Milicias Populares also rendered their weapons to the government and became normal civilians.”
People tend to confuse war with self-defense. In war, it is often considered essential to defeat, to win, to be declared the victor. In self-defense, it is enough that the attackers just go away and leave us alone.
Coming back to the fundamental question, I want to live in a free and peaceful society. To be free means to be able to do anything that is peaceful and honest, which includes gun ownership and responsible use thereof. If our goal is peace, which is better – to allow killers to spend ten, twenty, thirty minutes shooting defenseless victims before police finally arrive, or to allow victims to defend themselves and stop the violence?
Claiming always to be victims, making it seem that we need society to protect us, does not work. “I’m weak and helpless” is no deterrent to a bully. The business end of a gun is deterrent enough to make most bullies back away in a great hurry.
What if – as was the case for blacks in the 50s and 60s, for gays in many other periods, and for other minorities in a great variety of times and places – the police are no protection at all?
I cannot imagine any way to realistically dispose of all evil, but I do want to live in a society where all are free to defend themselves and their loved ones to the best of their abilities, and to otherwise live in peace.
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