Pink pistols

The gay movement often portrays homosexuals as helpless victims. Here's an alternative: Arm them.

Topics: LGBT, Guns, Gun Control,

Pink pistols

One night in the autumn of 1987, in Little Rock, Ark., a boy named Austin Fulk smelled his own death. He was 17, too young to drink in the bars, so he often hung out in a park that was popular among gay teenagers. On this night the sky was overcast, the ground soggy from a day’s rain and the place mostly deserted. He was standing in a dimly lit parking lot, chatting with a man who had driven into town in a pickup truck.

A car drove past very slowly, sped up, turned around and came back. Someone inside yelled something like, “Fucking faggots, get AIDS and die!” Fulk’s companion returned the compliment. The car slammed to a stop and four young men piled out, one with a baseball bat, another with a crowbar or tire iron.

“I thought I was about to die,” says Austin; but he is alive, and that is because his companion reached into the truck and whipped out a pistol from under the seat, leveled it at the gay-bashers and fired a single shot over their heads. All at once, their courage deserted them. They ran back to their car and drove away.

Austin is one of two gay men I know who believe they were saved from death, or at least a long hospital stay, by guns. Guns, however, will play no part in the program for the gay and lesbian Millennium March that takes place April 30 in Washington. Early on, organizers of the march adopted eight “priority issues,” with “hate-crimes legislative protections” first on the list.

A federal hate-crimes statute died in the Republican Congress last year, but mainstream voters and politicians are increasingly receptive. After 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was beaten, tied to a fence post and left to die in 1998, hate-crimes laws emerged as straight America’s favorite gay-rights measure. Today almost half the states have bias-crimes laws that cover gay-bashing, and anyway, gay-bashing is already a crime in every state.

I won’t quibble over the pros and cons of hate-crimes laws. In a way, I don’t need to, because the numbers speak for themselves: the laws are at best insufficient, at worst ineffective. Anti-gay crimes reported to the FBI almost doubled between 1992 and 1998. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs monitors 16 jurisdictions and found 33 anti-gay murders in 1998, up from 14 in 1997. The coalition also found that gay-bashers were becoming more likely to use deadly weapons: guns, baseball bats, knives. There is not a city in America where gay couples can hold hands in public without fear. 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.



So it is remarkable that the gay movement in America has never seriously considered a strategy that ought to be glaringly obvious. Thirty-one states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, 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.

John Lott of Yale University has done extensive research on concealed-gun laws and finds that they reduce violent crime, especially among minorities, who are at greater risk, and above all among women, who are otherwise perceived as easy targets. Even if you disbelieve his research for crime in general, remember that gay-bashers are probably especially ripe for deterrence. They aren’t career criminals or super-predators. More often, they are drunken or rowdy youths who decide to prove their manhood by picking on the weakest, most limp-wristed thing they can think of: a faggot.

If it became widely known that homosexuals carry guns and know how to use them, not many bullets would need to be fired. In fact, not all that many gay people would need to carry guns, as long as gay-bashers couldn’t tell which ones did. Suddenly, what is now an almost risk-free sport for testosterone-drenched teenagers would become a great deal less attractive.

Won’t bullets fly in the streets? Won’t blood flow in torrents? If that were going to happen, it would have happened by now. Today almost half of all Americans (and 60 percent of gun owners) live in states that license concealed weapons; abuse of lawfully carried guns turns out to be vanishingly rare. Remember, to get a permit you typically need to register with the police, pay a fee, pass a gun-safety test, have no criminal record, not be crazy and so on. In aggregate, people with concealed-gun permits handle their weapons more safely than off-duty cops.

No doubt some gay-bashers would respond by adding guns to their own arsenals (as they are already doing anyway). Lott’s research suggests, however, that the effects of any such “arms races” are more than offset by criminals’ desire to steer clear of potentially fatal confrontations. That finding, one can safely guess, applies doubly to gay-bashers, for whom the whole point is to beat up on someone weak. The last thing they want is to risk their lives in a firefight with a trained opponent.

So pink pistols can save lives, which is important. But — and this is even more important — they can also change lives.

To see this, consider a somewhat uncomfortable question. After decades of anti-gay killings, many of them unutterably savage, why was it the Shepard murder that finally became a cause celebre among heterosexual Americans?

Many reasons, of course. Shepard looked angelic and could have been anyone’s child; the story of his agonizing deathbed countdown riveted attention; the crime and its symbolism were horrible and moving. But there is, I think, one more reason, which is not quite so innocuous. Shepard was small, helpless and childlike. He never had a chance. This made him a sympathetic figure of a sort that is comfortingly familiar to straight Americans: the weak homosexual.

Since time immemorial, weakness has been a defining stereotype of homosexuality. Think of the words you heard on the school playground: “limp-wrist,” “pansy,” “panty-waist,” “fairy.” No other minority has been so consistently identified with contemptible weakness. Hate-crimes laws, whatever their other attributes, do nothing to challenge the stereotype of the pathetic faggot. Indeed, they confirm it. By running to the heterosexual majority for protection, homosexuals reaffirm their vulnerability and victimhood.

If anti-Semites hate Israel, that is in no small measure because Israel shattered the ancient stereotype of the helpless and sniveling Jew. Jews with an army! Jews who fight back! You can hate Israel all you like, but you don’t bully it. Israel changed the way Jews see themselves, and it changed the way gentiles see Jews.

Guns can do the same thing for homosexuals: emancipate them from their image — often internalized — of cringing weakness. Pink pistols, I’ll warrant, would do far more for the self-esteem of the next generation of gay men and women than any number of hate-crime laws or anti-discrimination statutes.

I don’t advocate a swaggering or confrontational attitude toward the American majority, or for that matter toward gay-bashers. Gays shouldn’t play Dirty Harry. I also don’t favor abandoning other efforts to mobilize law and public opinion against violence. Pink pistols are a kind of civil-rights measure, but they are fully compatible with other, more traditional kinds of civil-rights measures.

Still, the abiding fact is this: Homosexuals have been too vulnerable for too long. We have tried to make a political virtue of our vulnerability, but the gay-bashers aren’t listening. Playing the victim card has won us sympathy, but at the cost of respect. So let’s make gay-bashing dangerous. We should do that for our own protection. But we should also do it because we will win a full measure of esteem from the public, and from ourselves, only when we make clear our determination to look after ourselves.

Austin Fulk now lives in Virginia. He is a certified pistol instructor and is licensed to carry a concealed firearm. He has never had to use it.

Jonathan Rauch is a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and the author of "Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America."

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>