Yes, Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes Are On The Rise; No, You Shouldn’t Just “Get A Gun”

As a member of the LGBT community, the famous statement that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” is not something I completely agree with.  Although it is true that we cannot let ourselves be controlled by fear, negative emotions often reveal to us an issue which needs to be addressed.  Speaking as someone who embraces this concept, my concern is not fear; my concern is my response to it – or lack thereof.  In the wake of this recent election cycle, many LGBT Americans – in addition to other minority groups – have been feeling fear.  Our task now is to understand where it’s coming from, and to understand what should be done about it.

It is likely unwise to view conservative Americans as a monolith.  However, there is substantial evidence that Donald Trump’s far-right political victory may catalyze an increase in hateful actions towards minority groups.  In the wake of England’s “Brexit” referendum, which was significantly aided by nativism, the National Police Chief’s Council reported a 58% rise in hateful incidents.  Recently, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a similar spike in the States, after what is considered by many to be a similar political victory.  This is not a case of a few incidents being blown out of proportion; this phenomenon has past precedent and current documentation.  It is reasonable for us to be concerned about what is happening, and it is reasonable for us to be concerned about what’s to come.

Having established that these hate-related safety concerns are legitimate, the next step is to explore various avenues of self-defense.  Specific to LGBT Americans, the first group you are likely to encounter is the “Pink Pistols.”  At first glance, their website is reasonable enough, with a general statement that “all people have a right to defend themselves from harm” followed by general support for Second Amendment protections.  However, a subset of Pink Pistols members tend to cite the organization when arguing against less-lethal means of protection.  This is in contrast to a general argument *for* protection from harm: it is a condemnation *against* specific forms of self-protection.  These people may be a fringe of the Pink Pistols organization, but they are loud, and anyone exploring this issue will likely hear them.  They will tell you that you need a gun, because a gun is what works.  Full stop.

There are many core problems with the idea of advocating gun ownership as the cure-all for self-defense, and the first is a form of false equivalence.  If you speak to people who experience violence as a function of their profession – EMTs, police officers, etc. – they will likely tell you that tools such as pepper spray have little to no effect.  However, in regards to hate-motivated crime, our primary antagonists will be everyday people operating on ideological flaws.  They are not going to be on PCP, psychotic, saturated with adrenaline, or any other number of characteristics likely present in the violent people an emergency healthcare worker or law enforcement officer will typically deal with.  As such, I think discussing the effectiveness of less-lethal self-defense in the context of such professional encounters is ultimately misguided; it’s not tenable to prepare for encounters with hate via metrics for encounters with accident victims, career criminals, and the mentally insane.

(Added thought, edited in on 12/1/16: unless it look like this, I don’t think Saturdays at the shooting range are going to prepare anyone for the physical and mental impairments inherent in an actual conflict).

In addition to this issue of overly specific experience, it is arguable that resorting to lethal self-defense may actually increase the danger we put ourselves in.  In my home state of California, I am only legally permitted to engage in *proportional* self-defense.  This means that if someone puts their hand on my shoulder, I can push their hand off; I cannot threaten to shoot them.  In fact, according to the Shouse California Law Group, such escalation can actually give the other party legal permission to use deadly force.  I have written their reasoning below, verbatim, from their website:

“Example: At a Dodgers-Giants baseball game, Steve, a Dodgers fan, exchanges some aggressive words with Juan, a Giants fan. Steve then punches Juan in the face. Juan pulls out a knife and moves to stab Steve with it. In this situation, Steve might be justified in pulling out a gun and shooting Juan in self-defense. This is because, even though Steve started the fight, Juan was the one who ‘upgraded’ the fight to deadly force.” (source)

If I’m “Juan,” I clearly have reason for concern.  Besides pulling out his own gun, “Steve” may lunge at me to take away my knife, at which point I have the person who scared me enough to threaten lethal force now holding my lethal weapon.  Replace “my knife” with “my gun” and it’s not hard to see some serious problems occurring.  Of course, it may be comforting to imagine myself using a gun like some “Hawaii 5-0” cast member, calm and collected while controlling the situation.  However, I’m a 20-something college student with the physical presence of a very heavy preteen, whose combat experience consists of pillow fights and that one time I played paintball.  There’s a fair chance that most people reading this are not MMA fighters, Navy Seals, or professional athletes.  We’re accountants, store managers, musicians, teachers, and every other variety of “not meant to fight for our lives.”  As such, if we are being attacked, it’s probably not the best idea for us to throw a lethal weapon in the mix.

At this point in this piece, I’m left to address those who understand societal concerns about hate-fueled violence, but believe that they will never personally need self-defense.   This group believes that “yes, these things happen, but they almost certainly will not happen to *me* specifically.”  To those people, I say the following: I think you’re right, but I think I’m right, too.  Let’s say that 1 in 1000 minorities in America will ever feel physically threatened in a hateful context, and there is a minimal opportunity cost to acquire reasonable means of self-defense, in regards to tools and education.  For each of those 1000 people, there is minimal motivation to personally equip themselves for such situations.  However, when viewed as a group, if 90% of those people prepare themselves to handle a hateful encounter, there then becomes a 90% chance that the person who is victimized can handle it.  It’s not a matter of individual protection; it’s a matter of community protection.  By encouraging a culture of individual protection, we can collectively defend the individuals who will in fact need that protection.

At the end of the day, these problems are real, they do have solutions, and we must take care in our response as to circumvent cynicism without figuratively – or literally – shooting ourselves in the collective foot.