On June 12, Americans awoke to news reports of a mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. The night before, a 29-year-old man, armed with a handgun and rifle, had walked into Pulse nightclub and began shooting at the 300-plus who had gathered for a night of music, fun and dancing. Over the next few hours, 49 people were killed and 53 more were injured in what would become the worst terror attack on American soil since 9/11, and America’s deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter.
But make no mistake, this was no random attack. Pulse is a popular gay hangout, a place where members of the LGBT community go to feel safe, accepted and free to be themselves. So it was much more than a terror attack—it was a hate crime of epic proportions. Ultimately, it was the deadliest incidence of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in American history.It was the deadliest incidence of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in American history.
In the wake of the attack, our nation mourned for the victims and their families. But those condolences swiftly and predictably turned into calls for more gun-control legislation—even though the attack was carried out in a gun-free zone.
For others, however, the hate crime became a call to arms for the LGBT community to take safety into their own hands. In her latest report, Ginny Simone investigates the growing trend of firearm ownership in the LGBT community. She meets with firearm instructors who are donating their time to teach new shooters, and she talks with gay gun owners who are leading the charge for change.
Ginny visited the Shiloh Shooting Range in Houston, Texas, where an offer of free concealed-carry classes to the LGBT community brought an overwhelming response. Some 653 participants later, Shiloh instructors say they’re not only helping gays exercise their Second Amendment rights, they’re building bridges between two historically misaligned groups.
“The Second Amendment is every American’s right. We don’t care what color you are, we don’t care what gender you are.” — Jeff Sanford, Shiloh Shooting Range ownerThe Second Amendment is every American’s right. We don’t care what color you are, we don’t care what gender you are,” Shiloh owner Jeff Sanford told Ginny. “What I found out from talking to so many people was that no matter what we felt, they felt like they wouldn’t be welcome in a place like ours.”
They were definitely welcomed. And many walked away with a newfound feeling of empowerment and confidence. “It puts my safety, my family’s safety, into my hands instead of waiting on police—instead of being a victim,” explained first-time shooter Justin Ball. Above all, the experience let them be themselves. “I don’t hide who I am, you don’t have to hide who you are, either,” said Sergeant J. Garza of Harris County (Texas) Parks Division. “It’s not about your sexuality. This is your right. You have the right to protect yourself. You have the right to stand up for yourself.”
Shiloh is just one example of local clubs reaching out in an effort to introduce gay people to the gun community. As Sanford noted, “This was Americans helping Americans, and Texans helping Texans—because we don’t see it as an attack on the gay community, we see it as an attack on our fellow Americans.”
Sanford also advised more clubs to follow suit. “Reach out, make this offer because we’re in it for the same thing, and that’s advocacy for our rights—self-preservation, self-defense and the Second Amendment, the most basic right of all.”