Within hours of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Gwendolyn Patton was on the case. She sat down, banged out a press release and posted it on her website. “This is exactly the kind of heinous act that justifies our existence,” it read. Swatting away the pleas for gun control she knew would follow in the wake of a high-profile mass shooting, Patton wrote: “At such a time of tragedy, let us not reach for the low-hanging fruit of blaming the killer’s guns,” she went on. “A human being did this. The human being’s tools are unimportant when compared to the bleakness of that person’s soul.” She lamented that the revelers mowed down at the Pulse were practically sitting ducks: In Florida, even though gun laws are quite loose, you’re not allowed to carry firearms in a place that serves alcohol. What if there were a designated carrier, she wondered? Someone tasked with remaining sober and toting a gun around a bar? “It’s sad that we must consider such things,” she concluded, “but when there are persons out there who mean us harm, we must find ways to protect ourselves within the law.”
It’s a similar argument to the one voiced after all such shootings: shooting in a school? Arm the teacher. Shooting in a movie theater? Arm the theater-goers. What makes Patton’s call to arms a little different is that she is not part of the NRA or the Republican Party. She is a Libertarian at the head of Pink Pistols, which describes itself as “an international GLBT self-defense organization” and whose slogan is “Pick on someone your own caliber.” And so: Shooting at a gay nightclub? Arm gay people.
In the wake of the Orlando shooting, it’s hard to imagine an advocacy group more precisely tuned to the moment than Pink Pistols. Founded in 2000 and claiming 45 chapters around the country and three more globally, it sits at one of the most uneasy intersections in American politics. Its closest natural allies on both sides mostly hate each other.