Time to get a gun – Isthmus

Concealed Carry

Growing up in the United Kingdom, the only time that Iris Pullan encountered guns was playing video games or watching TV. Not even many police in the U.K. carry them.

Pullan and her family moved to the United States when she was 13, but she didn’t consider owning a gun until about three years ago. That’s when she began her transition as a transgender woman — and became increasingly aware of the anti-trans rhetoric that circulates among conservative groups and media. She also saw some of that rhetoric being put into action, like when a man walked into Club Q nightclub in Colorado Springs in November 2022, killing five people with an AR-15-style rifle and injuring 17.

“I’ll be honest, the Club Q shooting fucking terrified me,” Pullan says. “To the point where my work was suffering.” 

As awful as the Club Q murders were, it wasn’t what terrified Pullan the most. Mass shootings happen almost every day in the United States. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 646 mass shootings in 2022. So far this year, there have been 340.

What really scared her was how quickly conservative voices shrugged off the Club Q shooting. 

“It was immediately, ‘Well, we’re sorry about that. But maybe if you weren’t grooming children…you wouldn’t get shot,’” Pullan says of the messages. “The rhetoric has switched from even pretending to care to just, ‘Stop being gay and we won’t be forced to kill you.’ That is how you start a genocide. You start spreading that rhetoric to the point where people believe it. 

“That’s why it fucking terrifies me,” she adds. “It’s because there is a pattern.” 

Pullan decided that if she couldn’t beat America’s gun culture, she would join it. So last year, she took a free class with the Liberal Gun Club’s Wisconsin chapter. And late last year, she purchased an AR-15-style rifle made in Wisconsin by Bravo Company MFG. She isn’t the only left-leaning person to arm themselves. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 40% of Americans live in a home with a gun. Despite the stereotype of gun owners being white conservative men, gun owners are a diverse group: 20% of Democrats own guns, 22% of women, 24% of Black people, 18% of Hispanics and 10% of Asians, according to Pew. 

Pullan hopes she’ll never have to use hers, but feels better knowing that she has one. “At the end of the day, there are so many guns in the U.S. and there’s no reason a few of them can’t be on my side.”

It’s a warm May evening and Blake Alvarenga is wondering if any students will show up for today’s firearms class at a community space on the east side of town. 

Alvarenga is the president of the Wisconsin chapter of the Liberal Gun Club and you can often see him sitting near the Forward statue at the Capitol during Saturday farmers’ markets, where he hands out cable gun locks and invites people to take his free gun classes. 

Most of his students don’t have much experience with guns. He doesn’t ask, but some say they have been victims of harassment or violence. Many identify as LGBTQ or are people of color. For tonight’s class, Alvarenga is wearing a black “Protect Trans Kids” T-shirt.

The students who take Alvarenga’s classes might have grown up in a house with firearms, he says, but others have never touched one before. Some might have bought a firearm on a whim.

“A lot of people went out, bought a firearm and a box of ammo. And then it sat in the closet or under a bed or the back of a safe and they never learned to use it,” says Alvarenga, who recently ran for Madison city council. “And then they take the class. And that’s their first experience. And it’s very thorough. Since it’s in person, I’m able to tailor the experience and use my firearms as examples.”

His mission is to preach firearms safety and education to anyone, and it’s clear that he spends a great deal of his own money on the Liberal Gun Club. He declines to tell Isthmus just how much he spends financing the classes, but says that he appreciates donations people make and that he’s looking for another space to hold classes. Tonight, six people are here for the class.

While Alvarenga allows students to handle the guns he brings to class, no live ammunition is allowed in the space. He says he checks before leaving home and again after arriving at class to make sure there aren’t any live rounds on hand. He has dummy rounds so students can practice loading and unloading. 

Even though there’s no live ammo, Alvarenga announces at the start of each class that everyone must follow some basic rules: Always keep the barrel pointed in a generally safe direction. Keep your finger off the trigger and alongside the frame until you are ready to shoot. Always remember that you are in control of a weapon and if used negligently it may injure or kill you or someone else. 

The general firearm safety class is about three hours long and there’s plenty of material to get through, including how to safely handle, load, unload and store guns. Alvarenga also covers the various types of firearms and ammunition available, range etiquette, what to do when a gun fails to fire, how to protect your hearing and sight and avoid lead exposure when shooting guns, the history of gun regulation, and current gun laws. 

Since Alvarenga encourages questions, the class tonight diverges in many tangents. Can you legally give your underaged nephew a gun? Why would cowboys in the Old West keep their revolver hammer on an empty cylinder?

Metaphors sometimes help. When trying to explain the difference between hollow-point and solid-point ammunition and what happens when either hits an object or a body, Alvarenga tries out a few analogies before settling on the difference between a swan dive (solid point, which is more likely to pass through an object or body) and a belly flop (hollow point, which expands, causing more damage). “I understand that,” says one student.

For people who want more hands-on training, Alvarenga will accompany them to the range as they learn to shoot or adjust the sights on a firearm (he helped Pullan pick out the gun she bought). This can be helpful to people who might not feel welcome in what are largely white, conservative, masculine spaces. 

Alvarenga sees visits to ranges and gun shops as having a side benefit of helping conservative gun owners become more accepting. 

“Gun stores in Wisconsin are traditionally owned by older white men,” he says. “If you show them that a young trans woman can safely operate and use a firearm and understands firearms…it kind of demystifies and humanizes them.”

Firearm classes are available from other organizations, including the National Rifle Association, but they can be expensive, and Alvarenga says that instructors of those classes will often try to sell students insurance or other products. And the NRA’s political arm supports conservative politicians. 

“I have met some really excellent NRA-certified instructors,” he says. “But I have also met some that I think carry a lot of pain in their heart. And I can understand why none of my students would ever feel comfortable taking a class with them. These are the kinds of instructors that make certain groups and people feel extremely unwelcome in the sport.”

Malia Thao grew up in La Crosse. Although her father and brothers all hunted, Thao didn’t start to get interested in owning a gun until 2012, when she graduated from high school. That’s the same year that Adam Lanza killed 26 people — including 20 young children — at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, and a white supremacist killed six and injured four at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek. 

The killings made her realize that she might need a gun to protect herself. “It could be a weapon of mass destruction. But you could also be in a situation where it’s you or them and you’ve got to protect yourself and your family.”

She asked her dad to teach her how to shoot and they went to the range with his .22 caliber rifle. When she moved to Tomah with her wife in 2016, Thao decided to get a concealed carry permit. “We were living kind of secluded, out in the woods,” she explains. “So that pushed me towards having concealed carry, just in case something happened out there.”

She first carried a Glock 19 handgun. “That was my choice of concealed carry weapon. I liked the way it felt in my hands. I was comfortable. It wasn’t too heavy, it felt like a really good size for me,” she explains. “And I carried that for a little while, but it started being a little bit too bulky for me.”

So she switched to carrying a Glock 43 or a Beretta Nano, which are slimmer guns. Thao accidentally let her concealed carry permit expire but, after moving to Madison with her wife, she decided to get another concealed carry permit. Wisconsin requires that people take a certified firearm safety class in order to get a license, which is how she ended up taking Alvarenga’s class. 

Since getting her license again, she hasn’t been carrying frequently. She needs a different holster to more comfortably hold her gun. 

Although Thao likes the ability to carry a handgun, she isn’t sure that she feels safer with it — a sentiment several gun owners shared with Isthmus. For her, carrying a weapon brings stress. “I’m definitely more on high alert when I am carrying,” she says. “I’ve got to think about what to do if somebody tries coming at me just because they see I’m carrying it. So a lot more thinking ahead.”

She’s also careful in general — avoiding having a gun where people are drinking, walking away from situations that are tense, or just talking to de-escalate conflicts. “Words work wonders,” she says. 

Since the COVID pandemic and a rise in Asian hate crimes, Thao feels more at risk as a Hmong woman than for her sexual identity. She has had family and friends threatened and harassed because of their ethnicity.

And she feels more at risk at home than in public. “In public, there are more options to get away from a situation,” she says. “At home, you’re more enclosed.”

In Liberal Gun Club classes that Isthmus attended, students pose several what-if scenarios of using a gun to Alvarenga. It is human nature — inevitable among both gun fans and opponents — to imagine how you might respond to violence. 

In classes, Alvarenga urges students to consider other options aside from using a gun, both for moral reasons (killing people is bad) and legal ones (you might go to prison). Often the best option is to walk away. 

But students pose hypotheticals to get his thoughts on whether using a gun is appropriate, legally or ethically. What if you see someone breaking into your car? He cautions that he’s not a lawyer, but says unless you or someone else is in imminent threat of death or bodily harm, shooting someone for breaking into a car will probably get you in trouble with the law. 

A student offers another hypothetical: “Say I’m taking a walk and I see someone getting held up? Can I intervene then?”

“Maybe they’re filming a TikTok video?” Alvarenga responds. “How can you be sure?”

Alvarenga says that some people are clearly motivated by the current political climate to take his class or buy a gun. A lot of people signed up for his class before last November’s election, but then canceled after Gov. Tony Evers was reelected over Republican Tim Michels. “I had people straight up tell me, ‘I was planning on buying a gun if Tim Michels won and we were under full GOP control. Now I feel like there’s less need,’” Alvarenga says. 

Politically, Pullan has a socialist bent and worries about the future of democracy. “The Republicans are a threat to democracy and they don’t care about having fair elections anymore.”

I ask Pullan what she imagines in her nightmare scenarios where a gun might be useful. She says she fears right-wing militias or terrorist groups coming to a liberal place like Madison to target LGBTQ people or others. She notes that Muslims and Black people are also at great risk. 

“If those people try to come into a neighborhood, and they see guns in the windows, and maybe even a couple of bullets, they’re just going to leave, they’re not going to fuck with it,” Pullan says. “They want to find people who aren’t going to fight back, not people who actually have the ability to do so.”

“And, you know, three years ago if I’d heard myself saying this was a concern, I would have looked at myself and gone, ‘Are you okay? That’s a little conspiracy brained.’”

But she can’t ignore the escalation of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that has morphed into violence. NBC News and Media Matters both documented how conservative voices downplayed and rationalized the Club Q shooting. “It’s how these things happen,” Pullan says. “They creep up in intensity.” 

Another woman who took a Liberal Gun Club class has survived one nightmare scenario. When Selena was 20 years old and doing sex work, a client came to her Madison apartment and once inside, pointed a handgun at her and demanded money.

“When he first pointed the gun at me, I didn’t feel fear because I could sense that he didn’t want to shoot me,” says Selena, who has been given a pseudonym for this article. She gave the man all she had on her — $60. When the man told her to go into her bathroom and lie down, Selena panicked.

“I knew if I went to the bathroom, something bad would happen,” she says. The attack ended abruptly when she pulled open the curtain of her apartment and saw her boyfriend was parking right in front of the window. She yelled to her boyfriend and the attacker fled. 

Now 33, Selena has stopped doing sex work but still worries about her safety. She’s had her apartment broken into and an ex has harassed her. She’s taken two of Alvarenga’s classes and wants to buy a gun. 

“Especially the way America is, with everyone having a gun, I want to be able to protect myself. I want to put myself on the same playing field as everyone else,” Selena says. “I want to feel powerful. I want to feel safe.”

The biggest risk in owning a gun is to the person who owns it. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 54% of gun deaths in the United States in 2021 were suicides. The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence lists 71% of gun deaths in Wisconsin in 2019 as suicides. 

These odds are not lost on Alvarenga and some of his students. Pullan says that she has struggled with her mental health and her partner and family members have expressed concern about her owning a gun. “I have depression,” Pullan explains. “But not the suicidal kind of depression that exists.” 

Thao also knows the risks. In 2016, her brother died by suicide with a firearm. He had been suffering from depression and was drinking the night he took his own life. Thao’s parents now worry about her having guns. 

“I know my dad and my mom, it kind of worries them, because a firearm took the life of their son. My dad used to be a big hunter, really liked firearms. After that incident, he’s like, ‘I don’t want to deal with guns right now.’”

Alvarenga is upfront about mental health in his classes and the options available to people who might be struggling. 

“More than likely, you’re never going to use your firearm [in an altercation], but you might suffer a mental health crisis,” he says. “And that’s something I’ve worked into my classes, as well as hosting meetings with the Liberal Gun Club, doing mental health check-ins, letting people know it’s okay to not be a firearm owner anymore, or temporarily not be a firearm owner. It’s okay to give your firearms up or sell them. If you have a mental health crisis, you can reach out to members of the community and they’ll help you sell it.”

Students in Natalie DeMaioribus’ Chimera class sometimes ask her whether carrying a gun is a good idea. The 12-hour class, run by the RCC Sexual Violence Resource Center, teaches women and non-binary people basic survival tactics that are easy to remember and use, including how to yell to ward off an attack, ways to escape holds and how to set boundaries. 

DeMaioribus doesn’t have any experience with guns, so she and some of her colleagues took Alvarenga’s class to learn how to use them. 

“I enjoyed the class and learned a lot and none of it is going to change how we teach the [Chimera class],” she says. “Carrying a weapon for self-defense is really complicated. You have to be ready to kill someone.”

Even if you’re okay with that, it could be difficult for people to use a weapon when they’re most vulnerable. “If I go to someone’s house after a third date and am making out on their couch, am I going to have my pepper spray ready?” she asks rhetorically. “That’s statistically when you’re most likely to be attacked.”

She also believes that weapons usually escalate violence. “When a weapon is present, it elevates everyone’s stress level,” she says. 

One of the most powerful defensive tools that Chimera teaches people how to use is their voice. “Attackers like to have a plan, expectations of how it will go,” DeMaioribus says. “If they expect me to be quiet and all of sudden I’m yelling at them, it can stop the attack. It doesn’t even have to be that loud. We have a ton of stories of attackers who just gave up.”

But not all attackers will give up and sometimes other defense strategies are needed. DeMaioribus has no plans to buy a firearm, in part because of concerns about loved ones harming themselves with one. But she knows other women will make different choices. “Empowerment is our watchword, so we always leave it up to the person to decide,” DeMaioribus says.

Eight months after she bought her gun, Iris Pullan remains happy with her choice. She doesn’t shoot the gun often. It mostly stays locked away in her home. She has found security simply knowing it is there and it has allowed her to think a little bit less about the violent threats facing her and other vulnerable people. She feels prepared to face a nightmare scenario, should it happen. 

“My sincerest hope is that I never have to use the damn thing outside of a range,” Pullan says. “And I think there’s a decent chance that that will be the case. But I decided I would rather be ready than not.” 

Source link

Articles You May Like

The gun-toting Democratic candidate for Montana governor is walking a fine line
No Trump, Indicted In Four Criminal Cases, Didn’t Buy A Gun In South Carolina — He Just Said, ‘I Want To Buy One’
Biden to set up new gun violence office at White House
Federal Judge Blocks California ‘High-Capacity’ Magazine Ban for 2nd Time
Biden Taps Harris to Lead New Office to Prevent Gun Violence

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *