Following the Pulse nightclub mass killing of nearly 50 people at Orlando's "hottest gay bar" in 2016, a national gun club founded for the gay community has seen a noticeable uptick in membership.
The Pink Pistols, founded in 2000, have more than 45 chapters in the U.S., and its following is growing. On its home page, the group explains themselves as "a shooting group that honors diversity and is open to all shooters. We help bring new shooters into the practice and provide a fun social environment for all our members.
"We work to build bridges between the shooting community and other communities, such as those based on alternative sexualities. We advocate the use of lawfully-owned, lawfully-concealed firearms for the self-defense of the sexual minority community."
'Armed gays don't get bashed'
Nicknamed the "gay NRA," the Pink Pistols were founded by Doug Krick, an activist from Massachusetts. The group's mottos are "pick on someone your own caliber" and "armed gays don't get bashed."
Member Andrew Greene recalled an incident from decades ago when he was approached by a group of men after leaving a gay bar in Philadelphia. They were carrying metal pipes, seemed intoxicated, and one yelled to him: "Hey, faggot."
But when Greene pulled out a pistol, the antagonists fled. Greene said, "Criminals know that certain people — like gays — are less likely to own guns, and they target them.
"Much in the same way I carry a gun, I have a spare tire in the back of my car. It's there because when you need a spare, nothing replaces it."
Founder of the group's Delaware chapter, Gwendolyn Patton, further explained the reasoning behind the formation of the Pink Pistols: "No one is sitting outside a bar on a Friday night with a baseball bat waiting to bash a bunch of NRA members."
In spite of their nickname, the group is not affiliated with the National Rifle Association, but it has worked with the NRA-ILA on legislation initiatives and assisted in lawsuits. The Pink Pistols are a non-partisan organization, and LGBTQ status is not a requirement for joining.
So, why the rise in membership?
The Pulse nightclub tragedy was seen by many as the 9/11 of the gay community. It occurred on a Sunday. By the following Monday, the Pink Pistols' membership grew by 233 percent. After another week, the membership was up by 300 percent from before the shooting.
Patton tweeted following the murders: "This is exactly the kind of heinous act that justifies our existence."
— Pink Pistols (@PnkPistol) June 16, 2016
Since 2016, the Pink Pistols' rosters have continued to climb, going from roughly 1,500 members prior to Pulse, to 10,000 today. While that represents a teensy fraction of America's gun owners, the group's existence alone has drawn international attention.
Australian journalist Patrick Abboud traveled to the U.S. to tell the Pink Pistols' story. He explained: "I would never have thought I'd see the LGBTI community siding with incredibly conservative, right-wing, pro-gun advocates that have been publicly homophobic and transphobic — that didn't make any sense."
Abboud added, "There is on murder per week of a gay person purely because they're gay, and that's really horrifying. The level of homophobia and transphobia in the USA is out of control and some people told me a gun is the difference between living and dying."
But still, as the New York Post reports, gay Americans are arming themselves for the same reason as many other gun owners: self-defense.