Tall, sandy-haired Brian Cooper of West Hollywood took a Glock semiautomatic handgun one recent Sunday and blasted away at a torso-shaped target and an array of vivid human stereotypes. Cooper was at the shooting range with the Pink Pistols--a gay-lesbian group that offers its members firearms training and its foes a target for vituperative political fire.
After sending a clip of 9-millimeter bullets through targets and into spindly yellow scrub at the Americana 1800 Adventure Club north of Santa Clarita, Cooper pulled off a pair of sound-muffling ear protectors and ambled under a breezeway to relax with his significant other, Richard Best, amid the racked rifles and stacked ammo boxes.
"When I was younger, I shot a .22 [caliber] rifle, but the Glock has quite a different kick. I have to get used to it," the 36-year-old Cooper said, flexing his shooting hand as his colleagues in the group paused to reload.
Barely a month old and with only 12 members, the Los Angeles chapter of the Pink Pistols is but a speck on the recreational-political landscape, but it stands to challenge assumptions that the gay community is marching in lock-step toward more restrictive gun control.
The Pink Pistols started last year in Boston, where founder Doug Krick, a 30-year-old computer engineer, said he and a circle of friends were stirred to action by an article by Jonathan Rauch, a National Journal senior writer and commentator who often addresses issues of interest to the gay community.
In a piece posted March 13, 2000, on http://www.salon.com, Rauch expressed alarm over rising anti-gay hate crimes and called on gays to arm themselves in self-defense. He even suggested the new group's name, which Krick and his friends readily adopted. "We started out with a bunch of friends who wanted to go out and go shooting," Krick said. "Then it was, what else can we do? Let's rate some political candidates."
Shooting Group Gets Political
The Pink Pistols soon tussled with Massachusetts legislators over gun control bills, drawing publicity that touched a nerve among pro-gun activists elsewhere, and soon more Pink Pistols chapters sprang up. In California, the group has opposed legislation requiring the licensing of handgun buyers.
Krick said there are now about 300 members in Indiana, Texas and Arizona. Not all the members are gay, such as a leader of an Arizona chapter, Krick said, who calls himself "painfully vanilla and hetero."
"We're here for the purpose of breaking some stereotypes, [two being] the gay community as anti-gun and the gun community as anti-gay," Krick said.
There's Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), for one, long a fervent gun control advocate, who scoffed at the group. "It's a lot of hype and scam," Koretz said. "I would be shocked if any member of our community is a member of that group. It sounds like a front for the NRA."
But openly gay state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) tempered any criticism, pointing out that gay-lesbian groups are a cross-section of America, after all.
"If they're simply about affinity--we're interested in our own self-defense and target practice and so on--that's fine, but I hope they're not going to try to convince the community that carrying a gun makes you safe, because it doesn't."
Libertarian Party spokesman George Getz said his party promotes the gay pro-gun group in its publications.
"We're proud of the Pink Pistols," Getz said. "Crooks and murderers don't agree with gun control, which is why people need to have guns to defend themselves."
Back at the rural shooting range north of Santa Clarita, where the buzz of cicadas rises as soon as the thunder of gunfire echoes off into the distance, Los Angeles Pink Pistols organizer Tony Assenza was getting ready to signal for another round of live-fire training.
Assenza, a 48-year-old advertising copywriter and competition pistol shooter, is straight, but he helped launch the group because his gay and lesbian friends are interested in shooting. He lets the Pink Pistols shoot as his guests at the private Americana range, where he is a member, and he offers the use of his collection of firearms and supplies ammunition.
Best watched Cooper pick up a .45-caliber pistol, after telling Assenza that the 9-millimeter felt too light in his large hands.
"For me, it's a personal safety issue," Best said. "I think I'd be safer with a weapon in the house."
Sue Peabody, a printing sales representative from Valley Village, slipped a magazine into a purse-sized .25-caliber semiautomatic that she bought several years ago, fearing what she called an aggressive prowler. Now she enjoys an outing to the range as "a recreational, stress-relieving thing."
Not that she's gung-ho gun-obsessed, she hastened to add.
"I just don't understand why the gun lobby doesn't like background checks," she said. "I don't see what the big deal is to wait two weeks to get your gun."
Her partner, Lisa Costanza, a Valley Village real estate agent, said she enjoys the mental exercise of shooting her .357 magnum revolver.
"It's a discipline the way you have to time everything and the way you anticipate a shot, control your breathing and everything," Costanza said. "Some people think it's a big macho thing, but it's not."
Costanza said people react with more curiosity than condemnation when they learn of her hobby.
"I've never had anybody say, 'Oh my God, that's terrible, you shouldn't own a handgun,' " Costanza said. "Usually people say, 'I can't own one, I have kids in the house.' "
Assenza, who spread out a smorgasbord of firepower--9-millimeter semiautomatics, .38 specials, .45s--said he was pleased with the way novice shooters Best and Cooper were taking to their lessons. But then, he said, he has found that most people will enjoy a day on the firing line if they give it a try.
"A lot of people are against guns because of a lack of information, lack of training," Assenza said. "When people come out and see what this is all about, my experience is that knowledge at least takes away the extreme end of the negative perception pattern."
As for Costanza, she was thrilled she could try out so many different guns.
"You don't see a variety like this too often," she said. "It's better than a wine tasting."