(EDGE) Allie Barnhart, like so many raised in rural Western Pennsylvania, grew up around guns.
Most of the men in her family were former military. Both of her parents taught her to shoot before she hit puberty, and Barnhart's Uncle George took her hunting at 13, schooling her in the serious business of killing living things for food. (In the Appalachians of Pennsylvania, groceries are still routinely supplemented with whichever wild game is currently in season.) That was the same year she got her very first firearm: A Winchester lever-action .22 she received for her birthday. "I still have that rifle," Barnhart says. "It's one of my favorites." At 21, the minimum legal age to purchase a handgun in Pennsylvania, she bought a Ruger Blackhawk .357 Magnum.
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Although she had long possessed a Pennsylvania License to Carry that enabled her to keep a concealed firearm on her person and in her vehicle, Barnhart, a trans woman, rarely made use of her license before the Orlando terrorist attack on June 12. Now she carries her handgun, a Surplus Polish Radom P-64 9x18, whenever possible. "I am definitely being more cautious and more observant," Barnhart notes. "I also have been a bit more concerned since I was interviewed by our paper concerning a local memorial service for the Orlando victims, which I attended. The name of the town, which I actually live in, was named in the article. I live alone, so I usually have a weapon close by. I never felt it necessary to take such precautions before in my life. It is a terrible feeling to know there are people out there that hate people they have never met."
Barnhart was so alarmed by the massacre at Orlando's Pulse nightclub that she joined together with longtime friend Tim Moore to reactivate the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pink Pistols, the legendary nationwide organization founded a little more than 15 years ago with the idea that "Armed queers don't get bashed." The group's genesis began following a public and literal call to arms in March 2000 by Salon writer Jonathan Rauch. Referencing the Matthew Shepard murder throughout the piece, Rauch cited research from Yale University's John Lott that found laws permitting concealed weapons reduce violent crime, particularly with regard to minorities. But like all studies linking armed citizenry with reduced - or rising - crime rates, Lott's conclusions have remained controversial.
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The Pink Pistols were founded with several concrete goals in mind, according to NRA-certified pistol instructor and LGBT ally Jo Martin, who helped form the Central Florida chapter at the behest of former students. "The Pink Pistols' aim," Martin explains, "is to educate people within the LGBT community on how to go about getting training, getting a concealed carry permit and selecting the right gun for what they need, rather than just walking into a gun store cold and being influenced by whatever the salesman tells them. There's no fee to attend the monthly meetings or become a member. And you don't have to be LGBT."
Should any Pink Pistols member wish to practice his or her marksmanship, Martin also hosts the Rainbow Shooting Club one Sunday a month at a private range in DeLand, about 30 miles from downtown Orlando. Geared toward LGBT folks and just $35 to join, it offers shooting sessions and competitions as well as expert guest presentations on topics like home security and nonlethal self-defense techniques. Although the first Central Florida Pink Pistols gathering had yet to be held when EDGE spoke to Martin, she says she wouldn't be surprised if she had to add a second monthly Rainbow Shooting Club meeting to handle the LGBT community's surging interest in firearms. "After the Orlando terrorist attack, the interest in Pink Pistols absolutely exploded," Martin details. "A lot of new chapters have sprung up in the wake of it."