Conference highlights diversity of issues, members in firearms activism

Firearm enthusiasts from a variety of backgrounds attended the 32nd Annual Gun Rights Policy Conference, presented at the Westin Dallas Fort Worth Airport Hotel from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1.

The conference was co-sponsored by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and the Second Amendment Foundation.

Alan Gottlieb presented the first conference in 1985 to allow national and local grassroots groups to discuss common issues.

“People don’t realize that gun voters flipped the states [in the 2016 election],” Gottlieb said. “Gun votes organized.”

This year’s speakers addressed all aspects of the second amendment’s relationship, from ever-shifting firearm usage to the effects of Trump’s presidency to the impact of 3D printing. Panels also discussed the specific needs of some minority groups within the community, including women and the LGBTQ community.

“We only care about one thing here: Are you trying to take gun rights away from us?” said author Yehuda Remer. “If the answer is yes, we don’t like you. If the answer is no, then welcome to the team. We don’t care about your background or what you look like.”

The Orthodox Jew published “Safety On” in January to give children a tangible firearms safety learning program in the form of an illustrated story-type book. The idea emerged from his desire to educate his own three children before they developed glamorized and unsafe perspectives from popular media.

“While [LGBTQ people] are a minority in the gun community, we are a growing minority,” said Nicole Stallard of the California Pink Pistols, who works to help LGBTQ people with firearm defense.

A growth spurt occurred in the Pink Pistols after the June 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where 49 were killed and an additional 58 injured while attending the gay club’s Latino night. Stallard called the attack a wake-up call for the community, and her organization saw a 5 percent increase in the following weeks.

“The Pulse massacre was our 9/11 moment,” said Operation Blazing Sword’s founder Erin Palette. “We realized we were hated, not as individuals, but as a demographic.”

Palette founded her organization on the Monday after the attack. The nonprofit introduces LGBTQ people considering firearm ownership to volunteer instructors, who can train them in basic firearm safety in a supportive environment. In just over a year, the group has recruited 1,475 instructors in every U.S. state.

“The queer community is incredibly aware of its vulnerability,” Palette said. “[The community comprises] 3.4 percent of the population, but we are disproportionately affected by crime with one in every four of U.S. victims of hate-based violence.”

Though both speakers highlighted the reluctance of many in the LGBTQ community to take up firearms, they hope to work with the existing firearms community to change that.

“The gun community and the queer community have more in common than either realize,” Palette said. “Both groups believe in rights. The right to love whoever we want, and the right to defend ourselves effectively are both natural rights.”