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March 28-April 3, 2007

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Pink Pistols

Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
Taking aim: Nicole Stallard, head of the San Jose chapter of the Pink Pistols, at Target Masters in Milpitas.

Pink Panthers

The LGBT movement declares its right to bear arms in San Jose

By Matt Stroud

"I'm generally not in hostile situations," says Nicole Stallard, a woman in her 40s, wearing black leggings, 3-inch heels and a pink cardigan. "But situations can change."

Stallard is San Jose chapter head for Pink Pistols, a national group that advocates gun rights and armament for the LGBT community. Distracting me from her philosophizing is the fact that she's gripping one of her favorite guns, an H&K USP 9mm pistol, ready to fire. Out of nowhere, Stallard smiles, then aims 25 yards ahead. She pulls the trigger. The deafening sound of gunfire booms like cannon fire, and a bullet rips through the heart of a black-ink man on a paper target. Then another boom. And another, and another, and another, until her magazine is empty, and there's silence once more. Stallard relaxes and removes the empty clip from her gun. "Situations can always change," she repeats.

Indeed. A half-hour prior, I was in the car with her, on the way to Target Masters in Milpitas. Along the way, Stallard—a former Navy serviceman who currently works "in radiology"—revealed that she only recently returned to San Jose from a month-long trip to Bangkok. During that trip, she underwent facial surgery, a sex change, silicon breast implants, and hair transplants. In light of this, it's easy to get distracted. But she emphasizes her politics: "I don't want to give up my right to be armed," she says. "I want to protect myself, and I want every right to protection that I'm afforded by the constitution. And I'll fight to keep that."

Which brings us to Pink Pistols.

In 2000, Jonathan Rauch, then a columnist for National Journal magazine, wrote a manifesto of sorts, titled "Pink Pistols." In it, he called for an armed, gay movement of second amendment self-defense: "Homosexuals should," he said, "embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them and carry them. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible."

Rauch referenced, among other incidents, a 1987 episode where a gay man (Austin Fulk) in Little Rock was purportedly saved from harm after an acquaintance fired a warning shot over would-be attackers, scaring them off. Rauch uses this incident, along with the Matthew Sheppard case (in which a University of Wyoming student was fatally attacked near Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998, because he was gay) and statistics from John Lott's More Guns, Less Crime, to stress that gays need not accept weakness as a stereotype. "If it became widely known that homosexuals carry guns and know how to use them," he said, "not many bullets would need to be fired."

Doug Krick, who had started a nameless, gay shooting club in Boston, contacted Rauch and asked if "Pink Pistols" was copyrighted. Rauch said it wasn't. And thus, a movement was born.

With the slogans "Pick On Someone Your Own Caliber," and "Armed Gays Don't Get Bashed," the first Pink Pistols organization was set up in Boston. It thrived. And then it multiplied. Today, every city's branch is different.

The San Francisco Pink Pistols page, for example, links to quotes from "religious authorities," and references pro-gun statements from the Dalai Lama, Thomas Jefferson, Jesus Christ, John Adams and Gandhi. Los Angeles' site plays politics, and takes a pot shot or two at Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Not only do all 46 currently operational Pink Pistols chapters offer instruction, but the movement has found its niche alongside other non-NRA, non-right wing groups, that promote civil liberties and self-defense for all—namely, Women Against Gun Control, AWARE (Arming Women Against Rape and Endangerment), Second Amendment Sisters, Inc., Mothers Arms, The Liberty Belles, and others. From there, it's almost unavoidable to point out similarities between Pink Pistols and the Black Panther movement of the 1960s—another interest group founded to promote civil rights and self-defense.

"I wouldn't go that far," says Stallard.

How Far Is Too Far?

Hate crime statistics from the San Jose Police Department indicate that from 1999 through 2003, 53 hate crimes based on sexual orientation were reported within city limits. There are similar numbers in other cities, and they haven't prompted the Pink Pistols to encourage vigilantism, or action along lines of Michael Douglas' killing spree in Falling Down ("Just what kind of vigilante are you?"), or William S. Burroughs gay gang run amok in Wild Boys. Technically speaking, Pink Pistols is loosely based on gun ownership and marksmanship as a social organization. But, from there, it's reasonable to ask: What is the validity of a philosophy that encourages armament in the face of fear?

"I think guns are always the wrong approach," says Shelly Prevost, who recently previewed a documentary at Cinequest called Trained in the Ways of Men. "Though I understand the feeling." Prevost's documentary depicts the drawn out legal struggle following the horrifying murder of 17-year-old Gwen Araujo, who was killed at the hands of men who, after a sexual encounter, discovered that she was a biological male.

"You can't stop violence with violence," Prevost says. She notes that the situation depicted in Rauch's Pink Pistols call-to-action is considerable—a warning shot in the face of violent attackers can be a temporary deterrent—but what happens next?

"You think they're going to get back in their car and be afraid of gays forever? No. They're gonna get guns of their own, or figure out another way to attack later. I just think it's just na´ve to think that guns are going to stop repressed anger."

In Rauch's essay, though, he counters similar deliberation: "The effects of any such 'arms races' are more than offset by criminals' desire to steer clear of potentially fatal confrontations."

Rauch told me last week that he's perfectly happy with reasonable controls on firearms, but, "when a law or ban reaches the point where it deprives a person of a means of self defense, then it crosses a boundary and becomes intolerable." He notes that his point in the initial Pink Pistols piece had as much to do with homosexuality and culture as it did about guns, per se. "The last thing [gay-bashers] want is to risk their lives in a firefight with a trained opponent," he says.

Provost understands this contention, and admits that, in certain situations, there's not much one can do—if an attack is in progress, the options are either run, or shoot, But she wants preemptive action be taken. She suggests that groups rally to attend school board meetings where, for example, legislation calls for anti-bullying. She also encourages men and women to create art, like she did, that promotes dialogue toward openness within communities. She says that education, not violence, will modify beliefs. "We need to change society, not just carry weapons," she says. "And this cyclical thinking that it's acceptable to respond to anger and fear and violence with more anger and fear and violence is just nonsensical."

She pauses. "A safer society sounds better, doesn't it?"

But Carla, another member of Pink Pistols' San Jose branch (who describes herself as a "crusty old dyke") sees the issue of bearing arms as more straightforward—more empowerment than education or congressional bureaucracy. "It's more of a philosophical conflict," she says. "It's self-defense as opposed to victimhood. And I go with self-defense."

Reality Check

Regardless of your feelings on whether or not members of the LGBT community should learn how to use a gun with Pink Pistols, it's almost impossible to get a license to carry a concealed weapon in San Jose. Not only does a potential carrier have to prove that he or she is registered, crime-free, certified safe, and not crazy, they also have to deal with local authorities.

"People absolutely have the right to protect themselves," says San Jose Police Department PIO Nick Muyo, "but law enforcement is opposed to putting more guns on the street. SJPD hasn't issued a CCW (Concealed Carry Weapon) permit in years."

Stalllard is clear on the law. Though she might carry any number of guns in the trunk of her Ford Mustang (for target shooting purposes), she notes that none are loaded. She has a license to carry in Nevada and Florida, but not in California. And until legislation passes, if it ever does, she says she'll follow the law to a T. Legislation is even beign considered that would make CCW permits like driver's licenses: if you had a Nevada license to carry, for example, you'd be allowed to carry anywhere in the United States.

"If they ever allow that," she says, "You can bet my residency will change to Nevada real quick. To me, for any minority to put trust into government to protect them is a serious mistake."

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