Gun-owners and Second Amendment advocates may be stereotypically cast as conservative Americans who proudly carry a National Rifle Association membership card in their pocket, but the tide is changing and there is a growing number of liberal-leaning Americans who say they too support Americans rights to carry firearms.
But unlike their fellow gun-owners who belong to conservative groups such as the NRA, many of these liberal gunslingers belong to a more liberal gun-rights organizations such as the Liberal Gun Club. While the 501c organization has a wide interpretation of the Second Amendment same as the NRA and opposes gun control laws, members say that’s where the similarity between the two groups ends.
Founded in May 2008, Ed Gardner, director of operations for the club and chair of the education committee, told Mint Press that the organization started out as a forum for people who Googled “liberal” and “firearms” but came up with nothing.
Gardner who joined in 2009, said “Lots of folks got tired of presidential election politics on other discussion forums,” and says the Liberal Gun Club offered members a place to trade information and learn things about firearms. While the group has “Liberal” in its name, Gardner says the group serves as a national forum of all people, irrespective of their personal political beliefs.
Marlene Hoeber is a member of the Liberal Gun Club’s recently formed Northern California chapter. A transgender woman who describes herself as a feminist and gay rights activist, Hoeber says she enjoys collecting and shooting firearms such as her M1 carbine rifle from World War II, as well as a custom-made .44-caliber pistol, but Hoeber says she doesn’t want anything to do with the NRA.
“I can’t put money into a group that gives campaign contributions to people who (say) how terribly wrong it is to walk down the street holding my girlfriend’s hand,” Hoeber said. She continued on explaining that the group’s members have created an organization where “we don’t have to hear about the ‘Kenyan Muslim socialist’ in the White House.”
Eric Wooten, a longtime California Democratic Party activist and member of the Liberal Gun Club, agreed with Hoeber’s statement that she would never join any club that has “Grover Norquist on the board,” and jokingly added he doesn’t belong in a conservative gun organization that is riddled with reactionary politics.
“If I walk into a gun store with an Obama T-shirt – which I wouldn’t wear, because he’s too conservative — I don’t fit,” he said.
Though gun ownership is often associated with a politically conservative mindset, groups like Liberal Gun Club say that many liberal people own guns, but since they don’t agree with the ideals of right-wing gun organizations, often are more hushed about their pro-Second Amendment stance.
Hoeber says she is a gun-rights advocate, who even makes her own bullets, because she has “really strong feelings about my distaste for the state having the monopoly on force — and about my distrust of the police,” and wants lawmakers to stop chipping away at her rights.
Since many gun ranges are controlled by local ‘gun clubs’ and require membership in a right-wing gun group, many liberal gun owners don’t get the chance to operate their weapons. As a result, many don’t learn how to properly handle and care for their firearms, and therefore are unable to use them properly during an emergency situation, which is where the liberal gun groups come in.
On its website, the Liberal Gun Club says that it provides “a voice to the millions of gun owners who do not subscribe to the right-wing rhetoric surrounding firearm ownership by engaging politicians as well as the public on important firearms issues,” and offers safety and marksmanship programs.
While local chapters do get involved in gun-related politics, Gardner says the national organization focuses more on education and outreach programs.
In addition to the safety programs and regular shooting events, the group says it provides “an online alternative to existing Second Amendment forums, allowing liberal and moderate views to be expressed and actively debated,” by encouraging well thought out and reasoned positions and discouraging personal attacks and angry tirades.
“We’re the NPR of gun clubs – without the tote bags,” said Walter Stockwell of San Jose, who says he joined the club to improve his marksmanship and be around like-minded people.
Membership in the group is around 1,000 people nationwide currently, since Gardner says the group relies on grassroots efforts to grow. But as Hoeber told the San Francisco Chronicle, the group has ramped up membership efforts and goes after “gun geeks” and liberal folks who want to shoot, learn marksmanship, and buy and collect guns, but don’t because “they think gun people are people they want nothing to do with.”