LOS ANGELES – Two years ago Chris Cheng came out of nowhere to beat seasoned marksmen, police officers and veterans to win History Channel’s reality shooting competition show “Top Shot.”
“When I auditioned, I was openly gay. But I was surprised as nobody cared. They only cared how well I could shoot and represent our season,” said Cheng, who quit his job at Google after the show and is now an NRA news commentator and is releasing his first book “Shoot to Win.” “There is this stereotypical view of the gun community as anti-gay rednecks, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was interesting as the History Channel never ‘outed’ me on the show even though they had hours of footage. I asked why and they said simply that it just wasn’t relevant.”
Indeed gay rights and gun rights often go hand in hand says Gwen Patton, the rep for gay gun rights organization Pink Pistols National.
“We don’t want people to hurt us, we want people to run away from us, and the best way we have found to do that is to be armed,” Patton said. “Now if someone tries to attack us, we can defend ourselves. Ideally we don’t want any altercation at all, but if there is a perception that the gay person on the street could have a concealed gun, it might make the perpetrator think twice.”
According to FBI Hate Crime Statistics, sexual orientation is the second largest motivator for bias crimes in the United States, second to racial bias, and far exceeding the number of religious or ethnically-spurred hate crimes.
Patton said while she has never had to use her firearm in defense, another gay member of a local Philadelphia chapter recently did.
“All he had to do was display it, no bullets were fired,” she said. “Guns can be a very useful tool, but society has turned them into something they are not. They aren’t the boogeyman.”
There are now more than 45 Pink Pistols chapters nationwide. With its slogan “pick on someone your own caliber,” members get together at least once a month at local ranges to practice their shooting skills, share self-defense tips and talk about gun safety. According to Cheng, bringing gays and guns together serves as an important conversation starter.
“Many in the LGBT community simply have never seriously entertained the notion of owning a firearm, or thought whether they want to be a victim or if they want to survive an attack,” he said, while Patton says it's false that the right is all about keeping firearms, while the left pushes gay rights.
“So some think of us as traitors,” she explained. “But at the end of the day, it’s about recognizing that the government shouldn’t be taking our rights away – our rights to be armed, and our rights to be happy and with the person we love.”
Of course the push for concealed carry has may opponents. Ladd Everitt, communications director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said that hate crime is an issue our federal government has taken very seriously, pointing out the Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2009.
“The law contains explicit protections for members of the LGBT community," he said. "If groups like Pink Pistols are feeling targeted or under threat, it might be from members of their own community in the pro-gun movement."
Follow @holliesmckay on Twitter.