The Pink Pistols, a national gun club for gays and lesbians, wants their community to take up arms in self defense in the wake of a deadly shooting massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Spokesperson Gwendolyn Patton, who argues that the LGBT community needs to exercise their Second Amendment rights in order to defend themselves, says the group saw membership soar from about 1,500 members before the Orlando shooting on Sunday to 3,500 on Monday.
The spike in interest comes after at least 49 people were killed and at least 53 were wounded when gunman, Omar Mateen opened fire and took hostages at a LGBT-friendly nightclub in Orlando last weekend. The massacre was the worst mass shooting in American history and Patton says the interest in LGBT gun rights is at an all-time high.
The Pink Pistols says they have gained 1,000 more members over the course of the week, putting their total membership at approximately 4,500. The group continues to see dozens of new chapters pop up across the country.
"We've had the greatest response in three areas, our Facebook page, which has tripled in size, our chapters, we have so many requests for information on starting new chapters I've lost count, and the sheer number of people offering services such as training to our members," Patton said.
The group claims 45 active chapters across 33 states in the U.S. and three more in other countries. Patton says that in addition to that there are many inactive chapters that may be reopening soon.
The Pink Pistols describes itself as "an international LGBT self-defense organization" that advocates for gay people to acquire concealed carry permits. Group activities include bringing in NRA-certified instructors to help train members at shooting ranges and engaging in political activism. Pink Pistols is generally made up of gun-loving LGBT individuals, but also includes straight ally members.
Founded in 2000, the Pink Pistols was inspired by author, Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institute. Rauch urged LGBT people to exercise their Second Amendment rights to prevent "gay-bashers" from attacks. "They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry," Rauch wrote in a Salon magazine article that year. "If it became widely known that homosexuals carry guns and know how to use them, not many bullets would need to be fired."
Last Sunday was not the first time LGBT community members were targeted based on sexual orientation or gender.
According to the FBI, there are nearly 1,600 hate crimes committed against LGBT individuals each year. In 2011, the nation's law enforcement agencies reported that there were 7,713 victims of hate crimes and of those victims 1,572 were targeted due to a sexual-orientation bias.
The Pink Pistols say they are fighting back.
According to the group, if more people know that members of the LGBT community may be armed, the less likely they will be to single LGBT people out for an attack. The day after the Orlando shooting, the group released a statement calling on LGBT community members to arm themselves. In the statement, Patton told readers to blame the gunman not the gun.
The Pink Pistols have also filed amicus briefs on high-profile gun-rights cases, including Silviera v. Lockyer and Heller v. District of Columbia.
"We have a vested interest in promoting an environment in which our members can exercise their rights. If they don't have that right, they can't carry lawfully to defend themselves," Patton said. "So we promote an environment in which they can. It's that simple."
LGBT rights is a historically liberal issue, while gun rights is a historically conservative issue, said Craig Rimmerman, a professor who teaches a course on sexual minority movements and public policy at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
He added that he isn't surprised that a national organization like the Pink Pistols exists.
"After all this is America. Just because people consider themselves members of the LGBT community doesn't mean they don't want gun rights," Rimmerman said. "It makes sense that some LGBT people would embrace that perspective as well, although not everyone in the community would agree with this perspective."
He believes people are looking for ways to respond to the Orlando shooting violence and one response could be owning a firearm. Many equate Second Amendment rights with personal freedom, liberty, and safety.
"There is little confidence now for people in the LGBT community to feel safe and as a result organizations like this feel the need to take matters into their own hands by championing gun rights," Rimmerman said.
Nicki Stallard is a transgender woman and the head of the San José, California chapter of the Pink Pistols. She's been shooting since 1979 and affiliated with the Pink Pistols since 2006.
"I got involved because I like to shoot and I like to share what I know with others. I found out about them from an article online, visited their website and saw that San José had an inactive chapter," Stallard said. "I thought, why not open it back up? And I just jumped in!"
Her chapter has gained 32 new participants since the Orlando shooting and is now 302 members strong. The group runs at least two events a month of coordinated outreach training for new shooters, as well as social shoots. The activities are meant to be fun ways to promote self-defense and exercise Second Amendment rights.
"The sad reality is that members of the LGBT community are targeted for violent assaults by sadistic predators," Stallard said. "Firearms give you a fighting chance. Mace, pepper spray, stun guns and other non-injury devices are inadequate tools. To stop a violent encounter you need to seriously injure your attackers so they're incapable of attacking you."
"The intent isn't to kill. The intent is to stop," she said. "I don't shoot to kill, I shoot to stop."
Stallard says that those who are against people of the LGBT community have an "us" and "them" mindset. She equates the violent hate to that of Nazi Germany, when Jewish people were killed based on religious discrimination. The Orlando attacks were an example of this and were no surprise to Stallard. She says after the attacks, her mission to teach self-defense to those targeted is the same.
"In the back of my mind I knew something like this could happen, but when it does happen, it's like wow," Stallard said. "Reality is that in large groups we're a target for these animals."
Despite the tragedy, Stallard is looking for the positive. She says that after the attack, the American people didn't see the victims as gays or as "them." Instead they saw the victims as fellow Americans. She's noticing gun owners helping gays arm themselves against violent attacks - many conservatives are helping the people that they disagree with on social issues.
"They're setting aside their differences. An attack on this gay guy is an attack on a fellow American," Stallard said. "This evil hate, ironically, is uniting America and eliminating hate amongst everyone else."