I spent most of my young life opposed to gun rights, as many urban folks do. I grew up in a dangerous city in the 1970s and guns were scary things that got pointed at you when a bad guy asked, “Can I ride your bike?”
But my view has changed since I have encountered many gays and lesbians who have or carry arms for self-defense against hate crimes or for home defense. Some lesbians, in particular, view their arms as critical to home defense, especially if they live alone. I imagine that many straight single women have a similar view.
Since I started writing this column many of my lesbian friends have come out to me as Second Amendment fans and confessed that they own guns: rifles, shotguns and hand guns that are not quite legal. Interesting!
The difference between my friends who own guns and the criminals who commit crimes with guns is that my friends are using guns for defense and would never instigate a crime; rather, they are protecting themselves from one.
The Supreme Court has ruled that individuals have a right to bear arms. But even if you disagree with that it is hard to make a case that gun restrictions reduce crime.
The District has had one of the most restrictive laws against gun ownership in the nation, yet that did not prevent it from being, in the 1990s, the “Murder Capital” or cause the NBA Washington team to be renamed from the Bullets to the Wizards, as there were so many bullets flying around the District in a bad way. Nor did the District’s gun laws prevent the tragedy of a 14-year-old shooting 10 people and killing four this past March through the open door of a minivan.
So if, with such strict gun laws, horrible crimes like that still happen, I am left to conclude that gun laws do not work: they do not prevent crime but only prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves. And gays often need the most protection.
That is why Tom Palmer, one of the plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Court case of Heller v. D.C., sued the District regarding its ban on handguns. Palmer, who is gay, was close to being a victim of a hate crime until be pulled out his gun and defended himself, perhaps saving his life. I had the opportunity to interview Palmer and our exchange follows.
Washington Blade: What made you decide to get involved in gun rights?
Tom Palmer: I have long been a believer in the idea that if you aren’t harming the rights of others, you should be left alone. My own experience showed that a firearm evens up the odds when brute force is on the side of brutal people.
I’m alive today because my mother gave me a firearm to carry and I had it when I needed it. No one got killed, which is just the way I prefer it. Had I not had it that night in 1982, we would have been beaten or stabbed to death.
Blade: How did you get involved in the Heller case?
Palmer: It was an interesting coincidence. I had told various people about how having a firearm saved my life and the story was passed along. A gay friend who’s also a gun owner asked me one day if I might be interested in a legal case to defend second amendment rights. I said yes and the name he gave me led me to someone else and then to a colleague, Robert Levy [of the Cato Institute], who had helped to organize the case and who financed it 100 percent, despite not being a gun owner himself.
Blade: Eleanor Holmes Norton and the D.C. Council chose to turn down an opportunity for D.C. to have voting rights because of the Ensign amendment to the bill, which significantly restricted the District’s ability to regulate guns. What do you think about that choice?
Palmer: It just tells us what really matters to them. They just don’t care one whit about the constitutional rights of residents of the District.