US gay gun group's membership surges after Orlando killings

Salt Lake City Pink Pistols chapter president Matt Schlentz and his partner Skylar Simon load magazines of ammunition during a firearms training class attended by members of the Pink Pistols.
Salt Lake City Pink Pistols chapter president Matt Schlentz and his partner Skylar Simon load magazines of ammunition during a firearms training class attended by members of the Pink Pistols. PHOTO: REUTERS

SALT LAKE CITY (REUTERS) - At a local shooting range, the 23-year-old president of the Salt Lake City chapter of Pink Pistols, a national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender gun club, helps a tattooed member improve his marksmanship.

An openly gay professional bodypiercer, Matt Schlentz said members of the LGBT community feel more at risk of being a victim of a hate crime or violent assault. The mass murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last month, confirmed their concerns.

"Every gay person, every lesbian, every transgender, everybody in-between and every street person, we all know someone who has been the victim of a crime, a hate crime or some type of violent assault," he said in an interview.

Gun violence has remained in the forefront of national conversation since the Orlando shootings. Last week alone, two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota were killed by police.

Before the Orlando shootings in June, the Pink Pistols, with more than 45 chapters across the United States, had about 1,500 members. The day after the killing spree, its numbers soared to more than 4,000 and have since risen above 8,000.

"Orlando, being the largest mass shooting in American history and pointed at gays, I think it was a huge eye opener for people," Schlentz said. "The world is not a perfect place, and we need to take safety into our own hands."

Pink Pistols, which was founded about 20 years ago, promotes the safe, legal use of firearms for self-defence of the LGBT community. There are no fees or forms to fill out, and membership is open to all.

"We teach queers to shoot," the group says on its website."Then we teach others that we have done so. Armed queers don't get bashed."

Schlentz meets with members at shooting ranges for practices and training. The group also helps members not familiar with weapons to select and buy guns and ammunition. "Anything you need, that's what we're here for," he said."We are completely non-profit."

Schlentz expects membership of Pink Pistols to keep growing and hopes an incident like Orlando will not happen again.

"With a community of LGBT people who are arming themselves,"he said, "I think people are going to think twice, at least a little bit more."