What's a Gun-Loving Liberal to Do?

Caught between the Democrats and the NRA.


Bryan Schatz has an interesting article in the Pacific Standard about liberal gun owners, discussing how they get by in a world where one set of peers disagrees with them about weapons while another set disagrees about virtually everything else. Here's the opening:

Early Kathryn Bigelow. Basically a slasher movie, which may be why they cast Jamie Lee Curtis in it.

Sara Robinson of Seattle, Washington, is chatty, affable, and obviously liberal. For years the former writer for Alternet has been a member of a tight-knit community of activists who write and organize around progressive causes. Or at least she was a member, until her "tribe," as she calls it, effectively banished her in the wake of the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. "I was forced out," she says.

Robinson, a registered Democrat since the Reagan era, is also a life-long gun owner. And almost as soon as news of the massacre broke, her relationship with her left-leaning circle began to fall apart over the issue of firearms.

As she and her peers discussed the tragedy—with Robinson speaking as a reform-minded but unapologetic gun owner—email correspondence with her peers quickly devolved. Friends told her they would never allow their children into her home knowing guns were in the house—no matter how responsibly they were stored. Within weeks, she was pushed out of an online list of "tightly bonded peers" she had co-founded herself.

As the story progresses, we learn that gun-loving liberalism isn't that lonely a position. According to Gallup, there are around 16 million liberal gun owners in the U.S. They don't always feel comfortable in the NRA, but some of them have founded groups of their own:

Many left-leaning gun owners are finding a home in alternative groups like the Blue Steel Democrats—the official state gun caucuses of the Democratic party—and the Liberal Gun Club, an online forum and meet-up group for people who share an interest in guns and also respect each other's political beliefs. (Despite the group's moniker, politics vary widely among members.) It's a sort of Universalist Church of Gun Owners, where all are welcome.

Some people, Schatz reports, own guns for reasons directly related to their left-wing commitments:

I spoke to Marlene Hoeber, a transgender machinist living in West Oakland—not far from the original seat of the Black Panthers—who started her gun collection with a modern replica of a 19th-century black-powder revolver and is now "swimming" in firearms. She views her gun ownership as a political act….

[S]he owns firearms in part because she is not sure she can count on—or trust—the police. As a trans person, she knows that hate crimes happen, that some people would wish to do her harm, and that it might be up to her to protect herself.

Just a few years ago, it seemed like most of the radicals I knew who cared about gun control were opposed to it, because they associated it with racism and repression; the liberals, meanwhile, had backed off the issue, because they thought it had cost Al Gore the election. It's striking how quickly the landscape of a debate can change.

Bonus link: If the Liberal Gun Club is too squishy for you, try the Gay Communist Gun Club.