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Guns, Gays and Orlando

Sun 19 Jun 2016 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

One aspect of the Orlando nightclub tragedy that hasn't been discussed thus far is the vexed issue of US gun ownership policy. Could more stringent firearms policies have prevented or mitigated the death toll? However, not all LGBTI individuals support gun control. In the United States, firearms policy is controlled by a raft of disparate federal and state laws. However, the Second Amendment to the US Constitution talks about the "right to bear arms," which has been interpreted by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) as an absolute right. Therefore, it has rigorously fought all and any attempts to restrict, regulate or register firearms beyond what exists within current federal and state parameters. Under the National Firearms Act 1934, firearm manufacture and transder can be taxed, while machine guns, sawn-off shotguns, and other firearm use is registered. The Omnibus Crimes and Safe Streets Act 1968 prohibited interstate trade in handguns, the Gun Control Act 1968 limits interstate trade in firearms to licensed dealers, manufacturers and importers, while the Firearm Owners Protection Act 1986 provided supervised exchange of firearms, the Undetectable Firearms Act 1990 prohibits the sale of non-metal firearms, the Gun-Free School Zones Act 1990 prevents possession of firearms in the vicinity of school zones, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act 1993 provides for background checks on handgun owners, and then progress stopped. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994-2004) banned heavy duty assault firearms for a decade, but was not renewed at the end of its tenure. As a sign of the unhealthy Republican control over the federal US Congress, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act 2005 prevented gun manufacturers and licensed dealers from criminal liability due to the abuse or misuse of their firearms. To further complicate matters, all 50 US states have their own state gun laws. In theDistrict of Columbia v Hellerdecision in 2008, the US Supreme Court struck down a handgun ban in Washington DC, but noted carefully that it did not give gun owners carte blanche to carry concealed weapons through school areas and government buildings, and also theoretically denied their use by criminals and the mentally ill. US Citizens, permanent resident aliens and non-immigrant aliens engaged in specific legal hunting and shooting activities are viewed as covered by the mass of firearm regulations and legislation cited in the paragraph above. There are entrenched lobby groups on both sides of the gun ownership and availability debate. The National Rifle Association has existed since 1871, but after the passage of the federal Gun Control Act 1968 and a Californian anti-handgun bill in 1975, more militant firearm owners rights groups arose, such as the Gun Owners of America, Second Amendment Foundation, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, Second Amendment Sisters and Pink Pistols (an LGBT gun owners rights group). While the NRA opposed handgun bans in San Francisco, Chicago and Washington DC, it should not be seen as an unequivocally libertarian gun owners rights organisation, given that it has also supported the NICS Improvements Amendment Act 2007, and has sought to keep firearms out of school areas in response to highly publicised school shooting tragedies. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence campaigns unceasingly for tougher firearms regulations. The NRA and other gun rights groups outspent their gun control opponents by a margin of three to one. Self-defence and libertarian arguments clash with concerns about gun violence, criminal violence and firearms-related homicide in the US gun ownership and regulation debate. One organisation deserves particular mention in this context, and that is the LGBT pro-gun organisation Pink Pistols. Founded in 2000 by gay Illinois libertarian Doug Krick while living in Massachusetts, the organisation has forty-five chapters in Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, North Virginia, Washington state and Wisconsin, as well as crossborder branches in British Columbia and Toronto. While gun ownership rights are usually viewed as a 'conservative' issue, the National Rifle Association is pragmatic enough to work with Pink Pistols to obstruct gun control legislation. According to the Pink Pistols website, given the prevalence of anti-LGBT hate crimes within the United States, LGBT individuals are 'entitled' to own and use firearms in self-defence. The current Pink Pistols chair is a lesbian, Gwen Patton. The organisation said it was 'saddened' by the Orlando tragedy, but the fact that the Pulse patrons were unarmed meant that they had no way to defend themselves against the onslaught from the gunman that attacked them. According to Patton, the issue should not be the 'tools or instruments' used to such brutal effect, but the fact of anti-LGBT hatred itself. As for the Pink Pistols reception within the US LGBT community, admittedly there is no analogous LGBT gun control organisation within the United States, which seems odd. Moreover, Patton's point is disingenuous. It is surely the case that the gunman used specific "instruments and tools" of violence to deadly effect in a US state where lax and irresponsible libertarian gun ownership is political orthodoxy. If the assailant had used a knife instead of a firearm, he could have been easily disarmed. Explosives and poison gas would have meant greater requirements for organising the ensemble of components required for such an atrocity, which may have been beyond the cognitive capacity of the gunman if he was suffering from schizophrenia, as is implied by some of his acknowledged actions. Media coverage has been unusual-Fox Newsis supportive of an LGBT organisation for once, and even theSF Gate(San Francisco Gate) noted that the Community United Against Violence anti-LGBT violence prevention organisation and the San Francisco LGBT Centre were neutral on the issue. Whatever support for gun control that exists within the US LGBT communities seems disorganised compared to the libertarian contingent within Pink Pistols, although Gwen Patton has acknowledged that Pink Pistols support is more apparent from the National Rifle Association and gun ownership rights groups than from US LGBT communities. However, in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, opposition to the NRA (and Pink Pistols) anti-reform agenda may be crystallising amongst some LGBT communities- which gun control advocates welcome. Meanwhile, no-one has asked Pam Bondi, Florida's Republican Attorney-General, about her stance on gun control in this context, although CNN's Anderson Cooper (himself gay) found himself questioning Bondi about her antigay public record, given her high-profile former stance against marriage equality within the state, to which Bondi has responded with animosity- which has backfired. As for the state of Florida, it has lax firearms regulations and legislation. It is legal to engage in 'concealed carriage" of 'protective' firearms. It is illegal to maintain a registry of firearm users, nor does it have legislative protection against use of automatic fire weapons, restrictions on magazine capacity, there is no obligation to inform law enforcement authorities about firearm possession, nor are background checks required for private sales, and firearms can be carried in vehicles. Local governments are forbidden from passing local gun control ordinances and regulations that are harsher than this libertarian gun ownership orthodoxy. It will be interesting to see how this debate plays out. Will the NRA and Pink Pistols spin the tragedy as a case for LGBT rights to armed self-defence against assailants, or will the gun control lobby now find new cohorts of LGBT gun control advocates organise their own side of this perennial US public policy debate? Recommended: Wikipedia/Gun laws in the United States: in_the_United_States Wikipedia/Gun politics in the United States: Gun_politics_in_the_United_ States Brady Campaign to End Handgun Violence: Pink Pistols: Gwen Patton: "Pink Pistols saddened by attack on Orlando club" Pink Pistols: 12.06.2016:http://www. pink-pistols-saddened-by- attack-on-orlando-club/ Holly McKay: "Gay gun activists: Growing LGBT push to support the Second Amendment"Fox News:01.10.2014:http://www. 2014/10/01/gay-gun-activists- growing-lgbt-push-to-support- second-amendment.html Rona Marech: "Gay groups defends right to arms" SF Gate: 03.02.2005:http://www.sfgate. com/bayarea/article/SAN- FRANCISCO-Gay-group-defends- right-to-arms-2701776.php Itay Hod: "After Orlando, gays take aim at guns: The NRA should be very worried" The Wrap: 16.06.2016:http://www. gays-take-aim-at-guns-the-nra- should-be-very-worried/ Daily News staff - 19th June 2016    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Sunday, 19th June 2016 - 1:38pm

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