The subject of my rather eclectic life is one that has been addressed in many past BarkingShaman essays but I am afraid it is a theme that has not yet been played out.
Today’s conflict regards my queerness and my gun ownership. I realize that this also is not an unfamiliar topic in the pages of BS but I am in a real quandary.
The basic question would seem at first to be rather straightforward. Do I join the National Rifle Association (NRA) or not. Unfortunately the situation is a touch more complex than people in either the liberal or conservative camps would like to say. Let’s start with one basic premise: I do not believe that the NRA is an anti-GLBT, or even in many ways anti-liberal organization. The NRA’s official position is that they are a one-issue group and that issue is the 2nd Amendment and the support of all American’s right to defend themselves and engage in recreational activities involving firearms. In my research I have thus far seen no evidence that is not the truth. However, life is rarely so simple.
While the NRA may not care about any issues outside of their mission, the politicians who they support are not so focused. Many if not most of the political players supported by the NRA due to their 2nd Amendment stances are dedicated to the preservation of so-called “traditional values” which has become a code word for an anti-GLBT and pro-Judeo-Christian agenda (I don’t know if I’ve felt so much a Hampshire College graduate as when writing the preceding sentence). Additionally, the NRA “base” such as it is, has a reputation, which appears somewhat deserved, of not being very open minded to people who are different than themselves.
There have been several high(ish) profile examples in the last few years of anti-GLBT attitudes finding their way into NRA events. Charlton Heston, when president of the NRA made some rather strong anti-gay comments at official NRA fundraisers, and a few years ago a national NRA conference broke down into a hearty session of gay bashing. Given that the National Rife Association is ostensibly single-issue, this would appear incongruous as well as inappropriate.
More importantly to my mind, the gun owning community, of which the NRA is the central force, has done little to nothing to support or reach out to the gay community. Given the large effort in recent years on the part of the NRA to get women shooting and to emphasize gun ownership as vital to the self defense of women, it would seem that the GLBT community would be a logical next step. The GLBT shooting group the Pink Pistols has shot at the NRA home range at their headquarters, but I have been unable to find any public statement of support from the NRA for the Pink Pistols or for GLBT people using or carrying firearms.
I am reluctant to give my support to the NRA because the persistent feeling I get as a liberal-leaning libertarian, queer pagan is that they don’t really want me. Certainly my interactions with many NRA members have done nothing to change that perception. I have been told flat out that the NRA does not want gay members and worse, that the NRA does not want gays to be allowed to carry guns. The representative I spoke to at the National Rifle Association headquarters was clear that neither are true, but had no explanation as to how many NRA members could have gotten that idea.
Enough about why I do not want to join the NRA. Why I might want to do so:
First off, many local gun clubs require that prospective members belong to the NRA. When we lived in Vermont, we shot at the local National Guard Range free of charge. Here in New Hampshire though we have yet to find a good place to shoot that is low cost, despite our willingness to shoot outdoors year-round. It makes more financial sense for us to join a gun club (and no, Summer and I are not eligible for a family rate at any of them, and Fire doesn’t shoot nearly as often as we do) than to pay $14 an hour per person at the public range in Manchester. It should be noted that I believe that part of the reason that these ranges require NRA membership is that NRA membership carries with it injury insurance for injuries that happen at NRA member ranges.
At least as important as joining a range though is that the NRA does work to preserve the rights of Americans to own and carry firearms. This is something that I’ve come to support very strongly. I do not believe that the government disarming the populace makes life safer for the public. One of the legacies of being brought up Jewish is that I was raised from a young age with the awareness that the government and your neighbors can turn against you. The thing I remember most from holocaust survivors coming to speak to classes and groups I was part of as a child and a young man was the message “never ever believe that it can’t happen ‘here’ because that’s what we believed and look what happened.”
What this debate comes down to is a question of which is more important to me, the advancement of GLBT rights or the continued right to have a firearm.
There is also the additional factor that my upbringing was very anti-gun. Although there was a gun in my house growing up, both of my parents are strongly in favor of restrictive gun control policies and I was brought up to believe strongly that guns are, for lack of a better word “bad.”
I still haven’t made up my mind but I am leaning toward joining the National Rifle Association. I have gotten to this point by looking at the most extreme possible outcomes:
A) I join the NRA and my $35 is some form of tipping point that leads to a severe curtailing of GLBT rights. Worst case scenario, and hopefully we have a slim chance of shooting our way to the Canadian boarder (I did say extreme). Slightly less extreme, and we loose things like partner benefits and the ability to hold certain jobs, etc, but at least if Billy-Bob and his friends decide on a fun night of fag bashing, we’re able to bash back.
B) I instead give my $35 to HRC or some other such GLBT group and a new era of GLBT rights comes about but the Great Britain style curtailing of gun ownership rights becomes the norm in the U.S. The problem with this is that the next time our drunken homophobe neighbor takes his illegal firearm and decides to drive away the fags, he might not stop with Summerwind’s car. (Note: This essay was written several years ago. These days the HRC would not be the organization of my choice)
I’ve trained in many weapons, from the prehistoric bolas to staff, pocket and combat knife, and even sword fighting. I can tell you from experience that when the gunshots are outside your window, a long knife and a baseball bat provide slim comfort. It is worth repeating that we bought our first gun because the local chief of police told us that they would be unable, and perhaps unmotivated to respond quickly if our neighbor decided to open fire again.
I am a strong believer in the kind of protective legislation that the leading GLBT rights groups are fighting for. We’ve benefited greatly from workplace and housing anti-discrimination laws for instance. However, I don’t believe that you can make people stop feeling and believing as they do by making laws. Truthfully, I think that’s a good thing, even when those feelings and beliefs are hostile towards me and mine. I hope that GLBT groups will keep trying to change hearts and minds as well as government policy.
That said, I want to be able to continue to protect myself and my family from those who may cross the line from hostile beliefs to hostile actions, and the NRA is the organization that works to make that possible.