“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” insinuated Donald Trump on Hillary Clinton’s alleged desire to repeal the right to bear arms while campaigning back in August. “Although the Second Amendment people ... maybe there is, I don’t know.”
The notion that Trump, who was elected president of the United States last month, would obliquely encourage his constituents to physically harm a political rival was unprecedented. His behavior was denounced not only by politicians on both sides of the aisle, including Clinton running mate Sen. Tim Kaine and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, but also local gun enthusiasts.
“That gaffe back in August was certainly one of the most boneheaded things he’s said,” says Jonathan Fischer, a founding member of the West Hollywood chapter of the Pink Pistols, an LGBT gun rights group. “I’m a reality TV editor. As a person who recognizes what can be taken out of context, no matter the intent, words matter. He explained it away as telling Second Amendment supporters to simply vote for him, but in the age of coded language, he should know damn well that what he says can be misconstrued at best and, at worst, give a violent person the wrong message. It’s careless.”
The LGBT community is well aware of what happens when a violent person acts out irrationally. On June 12, Omar Mateen, a man with a known history of mental instability, used legally purchased weaponry to fatally shoot 49 civilians in Orlando, Florida’s Pulse nightclub. The event straddles the oft-opposing camps of gun rights and LGBT rights, a unique sociopolitical intersection that falls squarely within the purview of the Pink Pistols, a loose national confederacy of queer gun owners that was founded in 2000.
These dual interests also were reflected in Trump’s campaign. While the Republican president-elect has purported to be a “friend of the gay community,” this statement is undermined by his promise to support the overtly anti-LGBT First Amendment Defense Act and his choice as a running mate of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, an unabashed proponent of conversion therapy for queer youth.
Trump also ran on a platform sympathetic to the rights of gun owners. While most of his policies during the campaign were murky at best, last week he announced his official Second Amendment position on his website.
“The Second Amendment to our Constitution is clear,” the statement began. “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed upon. Period.”
Policies in the statement included a five-year minimum sentence on gun criminals; bolstering of the rights of gun owners who fatally shoot in self-defense; and a nationwide expansion of concealed-carry laws. Fischer has strong opinions on this last issue.
“I believe personally in states’ rights, but I can recognize that the reciprocity for carrying a gun varies widely,” Fischer says. “I’ve been licensed to carry with a permit that’s valid in most states but not here in California. Maybe forcing, for example, Los Angeles County to ease up on its standards for issuing a carry permit would be the answer we need to prevent gun owners from unwittingly violating a law. At this point, out of the 70,000 carry permits issued in this state, only a few dozen of those people are civilians in Los Angeles County. In my mind, that’s not an issuance policy; that’s infringement.”
Trump’s proposal also included a plan for improving our nation’s mental health system, which ideally would have prevented someone like Mateen from committing the Orlando massacre.
“There are some people who demonstrate violent behavior who are ill, and while there’s already a system in place to keep guns out of their hands, it needs fixing,” Fischer says. “In that vein, there’s a proposal to fix NICS, the background check system in place, which is speedy and fair, and used nationwide through the FBI. But there needs to be way better rapid communication between state and local governments and that nationwide database. A fix like that could save many lives.”
While Trump’s gun regulation proposals seem reasonable, the disconnect between his campaign promises and his postwin policy flip-flops make any of his declarations questionable, as evidenced by his stance on the Affordable Care Act. Throughout the election Trump repeatedly vowed to repeal Obamacare, yet days after winning the White House he downgraded his position to keeping portions of ACA intact, a tacit admission that it’s not exactly the “terrible legislation” he condemned it to be.
This unreliability extends to the realm of LGBT rights. While Trump’s platitudes toward queer America may ring hollow, the fact that he has the ability to appoint the next Supreme Court justice to the same judicial institution that approved marriage equality on a federal level is a cause of concern for many.
“While I suppose I could thank Donald Trump for saying several times he’s going to protect gay rights, it’s so vague I don’t actually know what that means,” Fischer says. “At the same time, he’s alluded to appointing judges who will protect religious liberty, and again, I don’t know what that means either. It’s dog-whistle politics. The only reason I’m not as panicked as many LGBT friends is because I’m a Supreme Court junkie and I know it would be almost impossible to set up a case that would literally overturn marriage equality because the court recognizes public opinion for a case like that is unpopular. Even if several appointments swayed the court even more conservative, they’re not in the business of trying to expunge marriages. They’re supposed to just answer questions about constitutional law.”
For Fischer, the primary antagonist against the LGBT community is the vice president–elect: “Pence has really avoided some hard questions about some laws he’s signed in his state, and that angers me greatly, because if he doesn’t just want to let two consenting adults get married or start families, he should cut the vagaries and just say it. No matter what, it’ll be unpopular, and I’ll still think he’s narrow-minded.”
Although many within the LGBT community flocked to Hillary Clinton as their pro-gay champion in this election, Fischer is quick to remind us that as recently as 2004, the then–New York senator declared, “I believe marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman.”
“I feel that until a few years ago, Hillary was biding her time to support marriage equality until it was politically convenient,” Fischer says, “or rather, until such a time as she could try and gain voters and their dollars from the gay community. If Hillary supports gay rights now, I commend her, but her inconsistency on many stances, including gay rights, is alarming.”
Fischer is equally skeptical of Clinton when it comes to her position on firearms. The former secretary of state was much more overt and specific on her gun-control policy than Trump during the course of the election, as evidenced by a statement on her website’s gun violence prevention page: “I believe weapons of war have no place on our streets,” Clinton’s website says. “We may have our disagreements on gun safety regulations, but we should all be able to agree on a few things. If the FBI is watching you for suspected terrorist links, you shouldn’t be able to just go buy a gun with no questions asked. You shouldn’t be able to exploit loopholes and evade criminal background checks by buying online or at a gun show. And yes, if you’re too dangerous to get on a plane, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America.”
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“I actually agree that if you’re under investigation with the FBI, you shouldn’t be able to simply buy firearms willy-nilly,” Fischer admits. “Especially if [the FBI is the one] with access to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. But the no-fly, no-buy list is a deal breaker for me. I’m uncompromising on my adherence to due process, and if we can prove someone has terrorist ties, they should be charged. Otherwise, we’re saying that eroding individual rights without due process is somehow defensible. The moment we start making exceptions to someone’s civil liberties, we start erasing our Constitution further.”
This gun-rights debate comes during a sudden surge in postelection hate crimes targeting minorities, specifically those in the LGBT community. Last month, images of bloody and beaten openly gay film producer Chris Ball went viral after he was assaulted in Santa Monica. According to Salon, assailants shouted, “We got a new president, you fucking faggots,” before smashing Ball over the head with a bottle and slamming him onto the pavement. Four staples reportedly were required to close his wound.
“It’s sickening to watch,” Fischer says of the rise in hate crimes. “I think, as always, LGBT citizens should arm themselves in a way that’s legal to do so around the country. If they want to learn how, by all means, give Pink Pistols a shout.”