Pro-gun gay groups take aim at hate crimes bill



One month after successfully tucking an amendment into the credit card reform bill that expanded gun rights, a small number of Senate Republicans are looking at the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as another chance to score a victory for the Second Amendment.

The plan — to add an amendment that would allow gun owners to carry their weapons from one state to another in accordance with concealed carry laws. The possible rationale — to defend gay rights.

“It makes sense for a group of people who would be protected by hate crime legislation to support something that would let them defend themselves before or after the crime,” said one Republican Senate aid familiar with the discussions. “It’s relevant, and we want to work together with gay groups to get the message out.”

While the aide described the discussions over a gun rights amendment to the hate crimes bill as “very fluid,” conservative and pro-gun rights gay groups outside of the Senate are ready to make a real push for it. GOProud, a new gay rights group that broke away from the Log Cabin Republicans in April, has talked with top staffers for Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., about how to make the civil rights case for conceal and carry reciprocity.

“We support this because we think it’s advantageous to make it legal and relatively easy for gay people to arm themselves so they can protect themselves,” said Jimmy LaSilva, who became the executive director of GOProud after three years working on policy for the Log Cabin Republicans. “In the next few weeks we want to start highlighting some of those stories. There are people who have averted gay bashings because of their ability to use guns.”

LaSilva and GOProud are currently putting together the names of some of those people. They’re collecting their statements for the first rock-solid deadline in the push for concealed carry reciprocity — a June 23 hearing that came together as a result of a previous Thune gun rights bill. In February, Thune and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., offered similar amendments to legislation that would extend a vote in Congress to residents of Washington, D.C. Both amendments would have legalized gun ownership in the district. Ensign’s passed, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., approached Thune on the floor to offer a hearing on conceal and carry reciprocity instead of a protracted fight on his D.C. gun rights amendment.

“Everyone here is focused on that hearing,” said Kyle Downey, a spokesman for Thune. “It’s too early to talk about the chances of this as a separate bill or as an amendment, but getting the commitment from Leahy on a hearing was quite a victory in and of itself.”

The hate crimes bill was sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and is supported by a range of minority rights groups. The senator’s office and the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign did not comment on this potential amendment when contacted by The Washington Independent.

Liberal opponents of Coburn and other Republicans criticized last month’s amendment to the credit card bill that legalized the possession of loaded weapons in national parks. The National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups pushed back hard against the argument that Coburn’s amendment had been irrelevant, or that it had been passed as a trick. At the time, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called the amendment “reckless and extraneous,” while NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre argued that the vote was bipartisan and proved “there is broad and bipartisan support for the Second Amendment in Congress.”

Supporters of concealed carry reciprocity argue that the case for attaching it to a hate crimes bill — if that is the way that it can be passed — makes even more sense than the case for Coburn’s amendment. “Plenty of people have used guns to defend innocent people,” argued attorney and Second Amendment scholar David Kopel of the Golden-based Independence Institute, “including crimes motivated by bias. This is a legitimate thing to attach to any bill that’s concerned with violent crime.”

That’s the case being made by Pink Pistols, a gay gun rights organization whose slogan is “Armed Gays Don’t Get Bashed,” and whose members can recount stories of fending off potential attackers by brandishing their weapons.

“Self-defense with a firearm is a valid and viable method of self-defense and protection,” said Gwen Patton, a spokesperson for Pink Pistols. “Imagine that individuals follow you from a place known in the neighborhood as a GLBT gathering place. They follow you to your car, and when you try to open the door, they hold out pipes and yell — ‘Hey, faggot!’ You pull out a concealed weapon that you have a license to carry. They say, ‘He’s got a gun!’ They drop their pipes and run away. No shots were fired, but a beating was just averted.”

Still, it’s not yet clear whether Thune and his allies will have to go this route to pass concealed carry legislation. It’s still possible that a new hate crimes law will be be folded into the defense authorization for 2009, which would effectively remove it from the amendment process. Thune’s most recent version of the legislation, S. 845, still could be introduced on its own for an up-or-down vote. But only one Democrat, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, has co-sponsored the bill, and Thune’s spokesman Downey worried that “the political side” of the Democratic Party would keep it from coming to a vote. “As we get closer to the election,” said Downey, “they will want to avoid these types of tough votes.”

If they do go the amendment route, supporters of concealed carry reciprocity are confident that it would be passed as part of a hate crimes bill, and not become a poison pill that kills the entire package. “Every Republican senator is on the record with a position on hate crimes legislation,” said GOProud’s LaSilvia. “If this were to be attached, a vote for the bill could be explained as a vote for concealed carry. Gosh — what would happen when the Family Research Council realized that their people were voting for the ‘gay bill.’ It would put a bunch of people in a really weird position. It would be fun to watch.”

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David Weigel

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