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PINK PISTOLS: Gays, gun rights movement merge

BY LAURA POTTS
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

August 25, 2003

J. KYLE KEENER/DFP

Albert Lowe, 47, of Leslie is a member of the Pink Pistols, a national gay gun-rights group. He is working to found a Michigan chapter. "There are a lot of people in the lifestyle who are interested in firearms," Lowe said. His goal has gotten some support -- and some criticism.

It made one state senator laugh. It made one of the leaders of Michigan's gay community cringe.

But the juxtaposition of gays and guns made perfect sense to Albert Lowe, who is starting a Michigan chapter of the Pink Pistols, a gay gun-rights group with 37 chapters in the United States and at least 5,000 members.

"I'm politically incorrect, totally," Lowe of Leslie said, chuckling.

If the group takes hold in Michigan like it has in places such as California and Tennessee, the state could have a new set of hobby target shooters and a broader, stronger gun-rights lobby.

That's the aim of Lowe, who is in the early stages of building membership, and of some traditional gun-rights groups, which are anxious to gain support.

"The more the merrier, in that battle," said Chuck Perricone, executive director of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners. "As long as they're supportive of the underlying issue, which is self-defense, we welcome their support."

Lowe said his primary reason for starting a Michigan chapter was to provide a forum to "go out and have fun target shooting" in an atmosphere that's friendly to gays, lesbians and others who may not feel comfortable in traditional gun groups. But Lowe, who said he has a permit to carry concealed weapons, said he also supports loosening Michigan's gun laws.

"There are a lot of people in the lifestyle who are interested in firearms," Lowe, 47, said. "And there are some of the more conservative gun groups around who are not friendly toward the gay lifestyle. I've run across a few people who didn't like me because of my viewpoints and such."

A few years ago, while living in Chicago, Lowe met Doug Krick, who started the first Pink Pistols group in Boston, also with the social aspect of gun ownership in mind. Krick created a Web site to get the word out.

"The next thing I know, I'm having people calling me from across the country saying, 'I want to play. Can I set up a chapter?' It wasn't my intention. But I'm not complaining," said Krick, 32.

From there, the Pink Pistols morphed from just a collective of gun enthusiasts to a more proactive, political group that educates, lobbies and speaks out in the gay community in favor of gun rights.

The Pink Pistols' Web site, http://www.pinkpistols.org/, is peppered with adages boosting self-defense, such as "Armed gays don't get bashed" and "Pick on someone your own caliber."

Indeed, Krick said he believes that "when the queer community can defend themselves, they're no longer going to be perceived as an easy target."

But that's a dangerously misled assumption, said Jeffrey Montgomery. He is the executive director the Triangle Foundation, a Detroit-based civil-rights group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered issues.

"Like many minority communities who are routinely targeted and highly at risk of being victims of violence, ours would be a community I would hope that would lead the discussion and debate in favor of gun control," Montgomery said. "I firmly believe the presence of guns in confrontations does not diffuse those in any way, and does not make anyone safer."

Krick said most resistance to the Pink Pistols has not come from gun groups, but rather from gay groups who view them as a political hot potato.

"People hear gays, guns and their brain breaks. These stereotypes they have in their heads aren't accurate," Krick said. "As a general rule, it's from the gun community that we've been welcomed with open arms. It's from the queer community that we get the interesting reactions. We've run across a lot of opposition."

Others in the gay community, however, see gun ownership more as an issue of personal choice, even if they don't choose to arm themselves.

As a Ferndale City councilman, Craig Covey helped pass an ordinance that would add municipal buildings, such as libraries, to the list of places where concealed weapons are banned.

Still, Covey said he takes "a middle-of-the-road approach that gun ownership is quite the American way, but there has to be regulation and safety and common sense applied.

"I don't see a problem at all with a gay gun ownership group," said Covey, who is the chief executive officer of the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project. "Though I suspect the vision of gay people with guns might strike fear into the likes of right-wing, antigay, evangelical organizations."

Or, in the case of state Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, disbelief.

"Are you serious?" he asked, when told about the gay gun-rights group.

Cropsey, who in 1996 received the National Rifle Association's Defender of Freedom Award, also has been outspoken on gay issues, including pushing for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman.

Cropsey said he is surprised at the creation of the group and thinks it's a "publicity stunt."

"I suspect it would have very, very limited appeal," he said, adding, "Everybody has a right to keep or bear arms."

But he said "it strikes me as funny that" the Pink Pistols are "being taken seriously because it's just so unusual."

But in the first few weeks of recruiting efforts that Lowe admits have not been aggressive, he said 10 people have joined the Michigan chapter. Lowe plans to step up his efforts to build membership by visiting gay-friendly events and businesses, and by using the Internet.

"If I expose more people to the sport and they learn the kind of fun they can have with guns, using them responsibly, then maybe there won't be so many people dead set against them," he said.

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Contact LAURA POTTS at 248-586-2621 or potts@freepress.com.

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