A recent spate of attacks on gay residents of West Hollywood has left the community of 36,000 — the majority of which are gay — reeling.

Last month, three gay men were viciously attacked by two men wielding baseball bats and metal pipes.

The police, who believe the attacks were motivated by homophobia, have ordered additional patrols and are busy reassuring jittery residents their neighborhood is safe. But many in West Hollywood now express reservations about even walking alone.

Said resident Stan Delfs, “You stop and think now. I think twice about going out after 10 and certainly not after midnight anymore.”

Not everyone is afraid, however. One West Hollywood resident defiantly told a CNN reporter he wasn’t running scared. He’s been the victim of a hate crime before, and he now carries a stun gun. He’s tired of feeling victimized, he said, so he’s taken matters into his own hands to ensure his safety.

He isn’t alone. Many gay Americans, tired of the harassment and violence they face at the hands of a decidedly homophobic society, have turned to guns as a means of protecting themselves and, in a strange way, of empowerment.

The most outspoken advocate for gay gun ownership is an organization called the Pink Pistols.

Founded in 2000, the Pink Pistols now boast some 13 chapters with approximately 150 members. The group’s motto: “Armed Gays Don’t Get Bashed.”

Belonging, as they do, to a community that has historically been very closely aligned with the anti-gun left, the Pink Pistols have not always received a warm welcome in the gay community.

Clarence Patton, who works with the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, thinks it foolhardy to respond to violence by purchasing a gun. Patton himself was attacked once, and he says of the experience, “It would not have been helpful for me to have a gun. Somebody would have been dead — me or the other person. Or the police would have come, and I’d be there, this big black guy with a gun. What do you think would’ve happened?”

Steve Smith, a member of the Pink Pistols’ Boston chapter who was interviewed about the group by the Washington Blade, disagrees with those who oppose gay people arming themselves.

“A very good friend of mine was bashed in Boston about two-and-a-half, three years ago,” Smith said, “It was in an area in Boston in the Fenway that was known for gay cruising. There had been a series of increasingly violent crimes against gay men … I came at it from the perspective of a traditionally liberal

Democrat from California. I’d always thought that gun control — I’d held the party line. I started changing my views over the last three years.”

He now feels high-profile groups like the Pink Pistols deter anti-gay violence by serving as a warning to would-be attackers to, as another of the Pistols’ mottos states, “Pick on someone your own caliber.” Should the deterrence theory fail, he thinks that having a gun will protect him from serious injury.

I must admit that I find it refreshing to see a group of people defy stereotypes as audaciously as the Pink Pistols do. In a society that regards gay people as weak and helpless, they refuse to be. Within a community that tends to be intolerant of dissent, they do exactly that. And for this I admire the Pistols.

That said, however, I find the Pistols’ agenda hard to swallow, primarily because it is hardly the contrarian agenda they tout it to be. The Pink Pistols have done little more than embrace an illusion held by many Americans, gay and straight, that guns make one safe.

The message isn’t new — it’s simply been co-opted by an unlikely group of people, and that doesn’t make it any more tenable than when it comes from the likes of Charlton Heston.

The United States, with the laxest gun-control laws in the industrialized world, had 26,800 gun-related deaths in 2000 (the last year for which data are available). England, which has strict gun-control laws, has a murder rate about one-sixth of ours. Germany, where it is nearly impossible to purchase a handgun, has an even lower murder rate than England’s.

Recently, many politicians and pundits have taken to reminding us that, when it comes to civil liberties, the Constitution is not a suicide pact. I agree. But why, then, does the same rationale not apply when it comes to guns? If the legality of guns results in tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, then shouldn’t this trump any right to own a gun?

The Pink Pistols say no, and I respectfully disagree with that. What I cannot respectfully disagree with, however, is the group’s assertion that the right to bear arms is somehow a gay-rights issue. To encourage gay people in West Hollywood and elsewhere to respond to bats and pipes with guns is shortsighted at best and reckless at worst.

If, àla the Pink Pistols, gay equality means buying into the specious arguments propagated by the NRA, then gay equality be damned.

–Chris McCall ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in German and political science.