Sunday, June 14, 2020

Pulse: Four Years Later

Pulse: Four Years Later

On this Fourth Anniversary of the Pulse Terror Attack, Operation Blazing Sword founder and president and Pink Pistols national coordinator Erin Palette is away at a convention spreading the word about our mission and the necessity of  firearms education. Because she is not available, she has asked other people who have been affected by Operation Blazing Sword to share what the last four years has meant to them.

John Doughty, one of the first OBS students:
I'm really not a gun guy. My friends think I'm a gun guy, but they're wrong. What I am is a queer guy whose comfortable assumptions about safety got eviscerated by the Pulse massacre, a queer guy who is willing to stand up and say "Never again. Not if I can help it. Not on my watch."

No, I wasn't there myself. I'd already moved out of Orlando and I'd only been to the space a couple of times when I did live there. I'm not much of a party-goer, but where my community is, I am, so any one of the 49 could have been me. Remember their names, because they are all of us. They could have been any of us.

I had angry, helpless nightmares for a long time after Pulse. I read texts describing how people died on their knees on a bathroom floor, some hiding under the corpses of their friends for hours, waiting for a rescue that never came for them. I decided right then that I was not going to be a helpless victim, no matter what it cost me.

In the first few raw weeks, I listened to others in my community who were talking about how to keep us safer. When the conversation turned to how they could take guns away from criminals by passing more laws, I had to point out that there were already laws about shooting people and that criminals were already breaking them. I noticed that “common sense” gun control laws always disproportionately affected poor people, brown people and transgender people. I wasn't okay with any of that. Gun control doesn't actually work very well in this country to keep people safe, especially marginalized people. More accurately, it makes marginalized people a lot less safe, which is generally what it is intended to do. Look up the history if you weren't aware; it's a painful but enlightening lesson.

I also noticed that the places with anti-gun rules were more often the ones targeted by shooters. I'm sure that nice, polite, law-abiding criminals will always turn right around and take their illegal guns elsewhere when they see your “No Guns Allowed” signs, but the rest of them will laugh and thank you for letting them know they have an open shooting gallery for at least ten or fifteen minutes before anyone else with a gun will be there to oppose them. I'm also pretty sure that the percentage of nice, polite, law-abiding criminals is, by definition, awfully low.

After Pulse, I started feeling genuinely unsafe anywhere I saw those signs. They don't deter violent criminals, they attract them by advertising to criminals, terrorists and bigots that everyone inside is an easy target. Feeling deeply uncomfortable, I started looking for a better way to be safe, a way that would give me a real chance to survive those long minutes (or even hours) before the police could get there. When seconds count, the police will at best always be minutes away... assuming they are even going to help you at all when they get there, which is not always a good assumption. Our lives and our safety are ultimately in our own hands, and thinking it's a good idea to subcontract that particular job is not likely to end well in those moments when we need it most.

I went gun shopping, which was an uphill struggle for me. I'd never shot a handgun before; they just weren't part of the culture I grew up in. Gun stores did not seem like a safe or welcoming place to me, because I assumed that most “gun people” would be more interested in shooting at me than with me. What got me over that hurdle was finding Operation Blazing Sword and its offer of free, queer-friendly and accessible firearms safety training.

After getting that introduction, I felt a lot more confident navigating 'gun culture'. I went on to take quite a few more classes so that I could feel safe and confident being a responsible, effective concealed carrier. A few years later, I decided to pay it forward and started a local chapter in the Triangle area.

I have zero illusions that I'm the next John Rambo. I'm old and small, and I have too many body parts that don't work right any more. I'm not here to play Queer Avenger, pick fights, or even defend property. I am not a cop or a vigilante, and not trying to be one. I believe in avoiding the use of force whenever reason, or just getting the hell out of Dodge, will suffice. If that's possible, that is; it isn't always, and if you back me and mine into a corner and threaten our lives, I will fight. Because of Operation Blazing Sword and the Second Amendment, I can fight effectively even if the aggressor is a lot bigger, younger, and stronger than me. That chance means everything to me. I will not be a helpless victim; I will not die on my knees, and if I can help it., neither will you.

It is love, not anger, that makes me willing to stand up and fight. I know that makes me the first target; I know that I will probably not make it out alive if I am opposing a long gun or multiple long guns with my concealed weapon... but that improves the chances that you will make it out alive, and that's what matters to me.

Let the bigots know that we are not a soft target. Let them know that some of us can and will shoot back if we need to. Let there never again be another Pulse.

Brena Bock, OBS volunteer:
I remember sitting in shock and horror when the attack on the Pulse Nightclub occurred: "How could this happen?" I saw many of my friends in the queer community blaming guns and peaceable gun owners; in contrast, my friends in the Pink Pistols seemed as shocked and horrified as I was. No one had any good suggestions until I saw a post from a Pink Pistols member who wanted to help her friends on both sides of the 'gun closet' door. That post was by Erin Palette, and she called her plan Operation Blazing Sword.

Over the past decade-plus I’d taught a number of my friends to shoot, safely and competently. Why hadn’t I thought of this? I jumped on board and offered my knowledge and support. Not many months later I was contacted by a member of the queer community who was uncertain about guns but eager to learn. We met at the range twice: the first time for basic orientation, and the second to help them set up the rifle they’d bought.

While I haven’t had any more Operation Blazing Sword students since then, that first one has expanded their collection and is applying for a handgun carry license. We still communicate occasionally and I offer what advice I can.

Looking back, that one step of offering my services enabled me to make a difference in the community and build a collection of new friends.

Xander Opal, OBS student:  
My experience with OBS was very positive. I was quite clueless around pistols, and quite intimidated by my lack of knowledge. I asked Operation Blazing Sword's founder, Erin, for a recommendation for someone in my area. She introduced me to Tim, who generously gave both his time and ammunition to help me out. He put me at ease and was very non-judgmental, and so I felt absolutely no shame in turning to him and saying, "I have no idea what to do," when a jam happened. He also ensured that I was safely attired as well as properly instructed in firearm safety and shooting range-specific rules. I was not pressured to go with any particular choice; the decision of what to be armed with, should I choose to be armed, was left to me. I was given the information I needed to choose wisely, and the freedom to make the choice.

His quiet acceptance of a queer person will make it easier for me to eventually find my way out of this closet I'm in the back of. Operation Blazing Sword continues the goal of queer rights, where each person is treated as an individual and not stuffed into a narrow box with narrow choices in life.

Chris Olsen, OBS volunteer:
Post-Pulse I, like a lot of firearms instructors, sat helplessly by while we were ridiculed and made to feel like the shooting was our fault. What came after was something that I and a lot my fellow instructors had wanted to see happen but could never quite get off the ground: a bridge to help train those people who were vulnerable and often at risk in a way to defend themselves and loved ones. I immediately volunteered my time.

Through that I have made some very great friends, what I didn’t expect from the last four years is how much it would change me as a person. I am more aware of the issues the queer community faces. I have become much more open to a lot of things, and much more of an ally. Since Operation Blazing Sword started I have taken about 20 new shooters to the range and worked them through those first timid shots until they were rocking full mag dumps. I have probably helped new gun owners buy well over a dozen firearms, and have become the 'question and answer guy' for many of their friends.

Allison G., OBS student and volunteer
"It couldn't happen to me. I don't go to those places. I don't take those drugs. I don't hang with that crowd. I don't anger those people. I mean, I get sad when I hear about something that happened. Someone got stabbed, violated, kidnapped, murdered. I don't blame the victim, right? It's not their fault....but they should have played it safe like I did."

... those illusions have been cracked. So many of us are trying to hold on to those falsehoods, but almost as many of us just can't do it anymore. The lie is shattered, and the truth undeniable: there are people out there who want to hurt us, to kill us, and there are no actions we can take to avoid being targeted.

It can happen to me, too. There are people who won't ever harm me, but they will blaze a road. They will look the other way. They will write the laws, or fail to write others. They will unlock the door to our safe places, for those predators to do it for them. They are as dangerous as those who mean me harm.

There's nothing I can say, no amount I can beg, plead, even demand that my life be spared, valued, preserved. That which can be destroyed by the truth should be destroyed by the truth. I'm glad the illusion is broken. It was hurting us. It was failing to keep us safe in a dangerous world.

It's long past time to stop pretending that we're safe if we believe hard enough, or beg those above to keep us so. It's time to secure safety, with or without the consent of predators.

OBS is how we do that.

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