When Nicki Stallard moved to Fresno from San Jose, she brought her pistol with her.
Not that Stallard, an out trans woman, was packing because she's worried about trans- or homophobia in the Central Valley — “I haven't had an issue, in all honesty,” she says — but because she can. Stallard is a staunch gun-rights advocate and a member of the Pink Pistols, a national group that advocates that LGBT people arm themselves, and she practices what she preaches — even now.
Before Sunday morning, when a man named Omar Mateen armed with an AR-15 assault rifle entered an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub — one he apparently used to frequent — and shot 49 people to death, Stallard and other LGBT gun rights advocates were front-and-center in California's squabble over gun control. And even after the massacre in Orlando, opponents of a ballot initiative that would tighten gun control in California are using the rainbow flag as cover.
In the fall, voters will decide on a ballot initiative sponsored by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom that would modestly expand gun control in the state. If passed, the Safety For All Act would require background checks for ammo sales, ban felons or people convicted of violent misdemeanors from owning guns, require lost or stolen guns to be reported to police immediately, and ban ammunition magazines of 11 or more rounds. (Most AR-15 assault rifles, the weapon used in Orlando, come standard with a 30-round magazine.)
To Stallard, Safety For All would be merely “an annoyance” that would make ammunition more expensive, she told SF Weekly. (Other supporters say that the law would be ignored, as there is no mechanism to make people turn in outlawed, too-large ammo magazines.) But she's still adamantly opposed, and is active in the campaign to convince voters to defeat it.
In Facebook ads funded by the California Rifle and Pistol Association and the National Rifle Association, there's Stallard asking, “How will transgender women like me be able to protect ourselves?” in the event that Newsom's measure passes. In fact, nearly everybody speaking out against gun control is doing so with the cover of gay rights.
The day after the attack, Republican strategist and vocal Donald Trump supporter Richard Grenell, the co-chairman of the anti-gun control measure, doubled down. It wasn't guns or homegrown homophobia that led to the massacre — it was Islam, he said.
“We have seen ISIS-inspired Islamists attack government workers in San Bernardino, and an Islamic radical kill gays and lesbians in Florida,” he wrote. “The LGBT community, women, minorities, other high risk groups, and all Americans should be allowed to access the protection they need to defend themselves and their families.”
Overlooking the fact that Stallard's pistol and her concealed-carry permit wouldn't have been any good in Orlando — even in Florida, you can't carry in a bar — the gay gun supporters might have a point. Self-defense is important. However, they have yet to identify more than a single incident in which an LGBT person used a gun to defuse a homophobic attack.
And that was in 1982.
(As it is, more than half of all hate crimes in California victimize someone because of race or ethnicity, not sexual identity, according to the state Attorney General. Yet NRA-funded campaigns do not seem to be buddying up with other organizations to make a similar case about safety for, say, Latinos or Asian-Americans.)
“I've not heard anyone in the LGBT community advocate for arming everyone as a solution to violence,” says Supervisor Scott Wiener, who cut short a trip to Mexico to be at the vigil on Sunday in the Castro. “The more guns we have, the more people will get shot.”