Free offer ignites controversial conversation over guns

In the aftermath of the devastating attack on the LGBT community in Orlando, the nation’s vigorous debate over guns has been renewed. It has certainly taken center stage for the LGBT community, where long-held opinions on guns have tended toward the left.

But as the nation considers whether the average citizen needs access to powerful weapons like the AR-15 rifle, the shaken LGBT community is also reconsidering the place of guns in personal safety, and strong voices are emerging on both sides. Many still hold anti-gun positions—and indeed, many hold them even more firmly now than ever—but others are warming to the idea that perhaps the LGBT community should embrace gun ownership as a matter of personal security.

This position received a firm nudge when it was announced last week on the Ralph Bristol Show (FM 99.7) that Nashville Armory would be offering a free concealed carry course to members of the LGBT community. This was subsequently posted to Gay Nashville on Facebook, and has since received a good deal of press. By 8 p.m., the course was full.

It later emerged that the course wasn’t being offered simply as a community service: an anonymous donor prepaid for the course to be offered. News 2 has identified the benefactors of the course, which usually costs $95 per person for 8 hours of training, as David Webber of Limestone Title Company, Bruce McNeilage of Harpeth Development, and Jeff Livingston of Urban Development Group.

Response on Facebook to the offering of this class at this time have been mixed. Brad Palmertree commented on Gay Nashville’s post, “I can’t even speak to how deplorable this is.” Others expressed that they thought the idea was wonderful, and others expressed frustration about not being able to join the course.

One local anti-LGBT politician, Representative Andy Holt, made comments politicizing Orlando and LGBT interest in the course. Holt, who made headlines by offering two assault rifles like the one used in Orlando as giveaways at a political fundraiser, yesterday accused Hillary Clinton of trying to “disarm the LGBT community that her masters want to exterminate”—and by her masters he means “her homophobic, murderous Islamic puppet-masters.”

Holt told The Tennessean, “I think members of the LGBT community are starting to realize how crazy it is that Democrats want to leave them completely defenseless, no less in the wake of a terror attack that explicitly targeted them.” He added, “I would encourage everyone in the state of Tennessee today if they don’t have a firearm to go out and purchase one. And if they have a firearm, go out and purchase another one…”

Ryan Edwards and Jason Steen are two of those who signed up for the class. For Edwards, the free offer is providing him the opportunity to do something he’s wanted to do for a while. “I have always wanted to… Especially in today's world, it seems like an excellent time to do so, and it is being offered/paid for by a generous person, why would I turn this offer down.”

Steen too had considered it in the past but had decided against carrying. “I dislike the fact that I now feel the 'need' to have to carry,” Steen said. “I've always felt comfortable out and being social, but now there's this weird feeling that I have to be extra vigilant, to be prepared.”

While Orlando is part of what helped him decide to carry a firearm, it’s about more than a single incident, he said, adding that “the violence rate for LGBT in general has seemingly skyrocketed, especially for trans [people], in the past few years. This is just the factor that made me act. I'm the last holdout in my family, everyone else, including my mom and sister, have their carry permit.”

Steen was clear, he isn’t taking the class just to be more informed: he does intend to carry a weapon for personal security. “I would hope that I would never have to fire my firearm outside of a range, but … how many times have we had to park blocks and blocks away from an event and walk back to our car at 3 a.m. In the one-in-a-million chance that someone with a firearm attacked our group, I'd rather have a method of defense than not. I consider it insurance. Hopefully you never need it, but it’s good to know you have it.”

But Steen also understands that many in the LGBT community are wary of having more guns in their social situations. “I feel that if done properly, no one would ever know you are carrying anyways,” he said. “As long as the criminals and those with hatred toward the community have access to guns, I feel the need to be able to do the same, legally.”

One concern that has been voiced by advocates against civilian carrying for self-defense in situations like Pulse is that civilians lack the training and skill to acquire and fire on a target in a high-stress situation. They argue that armed civilians in such circumstances are more likely to cause increased collateral damage.

Steen points out that, even in self-defense situations, gun owners are responsible for “anyone you injure, even during an attack on your life, other than the aggressor. You have to be aware” of the consequences to others, and yourself, when making the decision whether to use a gun. “If you injure a bystander you could very well go to jail, even if you subdued the aggressor.”

“I doubt I will ever have to use the training and firearm, but those folks at Pulse also felt the same way when they got dressed to go out that evening,” Steen reflected. “Not in a million years would anyone have imagined that possibility.”





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