Gun-control laws deprive minorities and disfavored groups of the basic right of self-defense. The mass shooting at Orlando’s gay nightclub Pulse is the most recent example of how firearms restrictions endanger the vulnerable.
Under Florida law, places such as colleges, career centers, and bars are declared gun-free zones. Pulse was such a place. Consequently, patrons and security personnel licensed to carry handguns were unarmed when Omar Mir Seddique Mateen opened fire on the revelers.In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals “to possess and carry weapons in case of a confrontation.” This right to bear arms is firmly rooted in English law and was described by the preeminent jurist William Blackstone as a “natural right of resistance and self-preservation.”
Historically, autocratic rulers and tyrannical majorities have sought to disarm disfavored groups. In England Charles II tried to disarm Protestant regions to prevent resistance to his extra-constitutional rule. In America white supremacists after the Civil War enacted Black Codes, which in part prohibited former slaves from possessing firearms. In opposing these measures with the Civil Rights Act of 1866, U.S. Rep. Henry J. Raymond (R-NY) argued that the essential rights of citizenship required that blacks face no obstruction to firearm ownership. A freedman “has a defined status,” Raymond explained, that included “a country and a home; a right to defend himself and his wife and children; a right to bear arms.”
In 1911 New York state passed the Sullivan Act, which outlawed handguns for anyone without a police permit. Under this law, which was targeted at Italians, the police had virtually unlimited authority to deny permits for the flimsiest of reasons. Supporters of the law hoped it would enable the authorities to control political dissidents and other undesirables.
While Florida’s restrictions do not specifically target homosexuals as a group, the effect at Pulse was no different than the Black Codes. Innocent people were slaughtered because the government, which claims a monopoly on force and only makes exceptions in limited cases, left the club’s patrons defenseless. The only person with a gun was a radicalized Muslim who had been twice investigated by the FBI (which found nothing to pursue further) and who had unequivocally expressed his hatred for homosexuals and others to coworkers.
Fortunately, some members of the LGBT community are working to protect gun rights rather than calling for more restrictions, as President Obama and Hillary Clinton have done. Pink Pistols, which has 45 chapters across the United States, is a group that encourages “the legal, safe, and responsible use of firearms for self-defense of the sexual-minority community.” According to the organization’s press release, politicians should “not reach for the low-hanging fruit of blaming the killer’s guns. Let us stay focused on the fact that someone hated gay people so much they were ready to kill or injure so many.... Our job now is not to demonize the man’s tools, but to condemn his acts and work to prevent such acts in the future.”
Pink Pistols suggests that statutes similar to Florida’s should be amended to allow individuals who are not drinking, such as designated drivers or a club security officers, to carry guns in bars. With such an amendment, an attacker like Mateen would be met with firepower rather than helplessness.
Data show that most police officers support an armed citizenry to deter and resist crime. For example, in a survey of 15,000 officers conducted by PoliceOne, 91 percent of respondents supported concealed carry of firearms by civilians who are not felons or mentally challenged.
The Orlando shooting was a tragedy and could have been prevented had Pulse not been declared a gun-free zone. Gun restrictions too often deprive minority groups of the natural right to self-defense. Hopefully lawmakers will heed the suggestions of Pink Pistols and others to allow citizens to respond to dangers posed by the Mateens of the world.