"Most gun clubs are for men who like John Wayne or Charlton Heston. They're for the pussy, football, and beer crowd," says Pink Pistols member Steve Gilbert, as we're taking a break from shooting on a sunny Saturday afternoon. "The difference is, we're more for the dick, shopping, and champagne crowd."
Gilbert's statement is perhaps the most frank I've ever heard from a gun fanatic connecting shooting and cock, never mind double entendres like "going out with a loaded gun" or offering you the opportunity to "play with my weapon." He's candid and endearing, and I'm beginning to think I might see the point of his bizarre gay rights gun group, after all.
The Portland chapter of the Pink Pistols is one of over 50 similar and loosely affiliated gay rights gun clubs around the country (pinkpistols.org)—and one just started in Canada. For the last two years, 40 or so active members have marched in Portland's Pride Parade, albeit without actually carrying their weapons, thanks to safety concerns expressed by the Portland Police Bureau. Yet to many people, me included, the principles of gay rights and gun rights have always seemed at opposite ends of the political spectrum. I decided to challenge my preconceptions by going along.
EQUAL RIGHTS TO SELF-DEFENSE
Assuming all gay people should be poodle-carrying, cigarette holder-toting Noël Coward look-alikes is hardly politically correct these days, but it was a stretch, even for this left-leaning libertarian, to imagine a bunch of gay blokes shooting guns together without thinking something was out of place.
It turns out I was just being old-fashioned.
I wasn't blind to the homoeroticism in the language or iconography surrounding guns. From Daniel Craig as James Bond to Rock Hudson in Giant, not to mention those two handsome cowboys in Brokeback Mountain, there's no doubt an excess of masculinity coupled with the image of something hard and powerful stuffed into one's trousers... well, it's always been there. It's just that Western culture (and by that, I really mean "me") has always been more comfortable denying it. Then there's the moral contortionism of the average Portlander (which I sometimes share, but which you might describe as liberal fascism), and which I think is more about being closed minded when it comes to granting others the right to live as they choose.
"In Portland people want to be liberal, which means they're into the gun-control thing," says Gilbert. "And so gay people are often considered traitors when they're interested in guns."
In other words: Most Portlanders are proud they just elected a gay mayor, but wouldn't be too concerned if our local gun fanatics were lined up against a wall and shot. Which is why I now realize the Pink Pistols are fucking wonderful, because they shoot holes through such narrow mindedness with glee.
The Pink Pistols were started in 2000, after gay journalist Jonathan Rauch suggested on salon.com that gay men should arm themselves following 21-year-old Matthew Shepard's 1998 death by beating in Wyoming.
"There's not a city in America where gay couples can hold hands in public without fear," wrote Rauch. "Gay bashing is a kind of low-level terrorism designed to signal that, whatever the law may say, queers are pathetic and grotesque. Beyond a certain point, therefore, law can't be the answer."
Rauch issued a call to arms, literally, offering an idea he thought would be a better deterrent to gay bashers than bias crime laws. "Homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely, and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses, and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible," he wrote.
On reflection, I tend to agree with him. But I accept that the Pink Pistols' philosophy isn't for everyone.
SOMEWHERE IN THE TILLAMOOK FOREST
"The point is to show people that all of us believe the world would be a safer place if people knew about firearms and shot firearms," says J.J. Ark, a bisexual systems administrator for a progressive left wing web host on the East Coast, as he's driving me out to a logging road in the Tillamook Forest where we'll be doing our shooting. Ark is wearing a Pink Pistols T-shirt that says, "Pick on someone your own caliber," and I ask if he feels safer carrying a gun with his concealed handgun license in Portland. He says yes.
"Although you tend to avoid situations where you might have to draw the weapon," he admits. "I'd rather be terrorizing paper targets for the rest of my life."
Ark got his .38 special snub-nosed revolver after being threatened while exiting a TriMet bus in 2000. He'd just sold his Vespa scooter, and decided to take up a "safer hobby," he says—he's never seen anybody get shot, but has witnessed plenty of Vespa accidents.
We met with Gilbert and four other Pink Pistols people at a McDonald's in Beaverton. They were: Mike Bowman, the group's organizer and a notary signing agent, and a guy called Doug who'd prefer not to give his last name, but who is a flirtatious version of Carl Reiner's aging con artist character in Ocean's Eleven. Doug brought his son, Mike, along, who in turn brought his girlfriend, Crystal—Pink Pistols is a pansexual organization. "We just want to make sure everyone feels comfortable," says Ark.
Speaking of diversity, I was somewhat surprised in McDonald's when Gilbert whipped out a white cane from under the table.
"I can't see the targets, anyway," he said. "I'm legally blind."
Indeed, he's the second blind man in Oregon with a concealed handgun license. I couldn't wait to get back to Portland and tell everyone I'd been shooting with a gay blind man!
Once we arrive at our range, we set up a table with an awful lot of guns on it, and some targets, both at close range and about 50 yards away.
"What do we have by way of ear protection?" asks Doug.
"I try not to say muffs in case there's a lesbian around," says Gilbert.
Ark uses duct tape to put up the targets.
"You know trannies use duct tape to tuck it back," says Gilbert.
"They don't use it to shut up, that's for sure," says Ark. "At least not the ones I've known."
At this point I feel like lighting a cigar or something to butch things up, but frankly I disagree with Freud about a cigar sometimes just being a cigar, and besides, I seem to have left my humidor at home. I decide to shoot some guns instead. Doug has brought along his AK-47, painted pink and white, and covered in stickers of pink hearts, butterflies, and flowers. Luckily for my fragile straight ego, it fires just like any heterosexual gun might.
"Well, I saw an AR-15 online with pictures of Hello Kitty on it, and I thought I could do better," he says.
I also shoot a .357 Magnum, a .44 Magnum with a hellish kick (and a modified trigger so sensitive it fires when I fart), and two different shotguns firing cartridges filled with birdshot, buckshot, and slugs. We stop to talk politics: Everyone's voting for Obama. Then Doug gives me the chance to shoot his deer rifle, the noise and kick of which is a very centering experience (as in, it scared the shit out of me).
I shoot Ark's Yugo M-56 rifle, and watch Bowman fire off 20 rounds from a GI combine with a paratrooper stock. I also end up smoking one of Mike's cigarettes, and Doug makes a joke about the Englishman "wanting a fag." Gilbert does a surprisingly good job of hitting all the targets, given that he can't see them. Then it's time to head home.
All in all, once the shooting got started, it felt just like shooting on the range in the basement at the Portland Police Bureau, something I got to experience when I went through the city's Citizen's Police Academy last fall ["Spread 'Em," Feature, Dec 13]. But if I had to choose a bunch of people to hang out with while reloading, I'll be honest: The Pink Pistols would win the contest, hands down.