Civil Liberties

Liberals and Lefties Who like Guns -- But Not the NRA -- Emerge in San Francisco

Transsexuals, ex-priests and Democrats love guns, too.

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock

I thought it was a joke, and a bad one, when a strident vegan musician friend from upscale Marin County, just north of San Francisco, said he was thinking of getting a rifle because his neighbor had a nasty pit bull that kept threatening his smaller dog.

Turns out the joke’s on me—my friend is not alone. According to Carla Marinucci, the top political writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, there’s a new faction in America’s gun culture: liberal lefties who love their guns but hate the National Rifle Association. And they have members in the Bay Area, a region with a long history of gun control efforts.

“We’re the NPR of gun clubs—without the tote bags,” Walter Stockwell of San Jose told the paper, saying he joined the Liberal Gun Club to improve his shot and spend time with people who share his views. This allegedly more genteel, intellectual and liberal gun club has about 1,000 members nationally, compared to the NRA’s 5 million.

“Marlene Hoeber is feisty, tattooed, transgender, a self-described feminist, a queer activist—and a crack shot with her favorite ‘toys,’ guns of just about every kind,” the piece began, profiling the club's California state president. The stereotype-shattering story was promptly reposted on GOPUSA.com, teasing “a peek into leftwing gun culture.”

The liberal shooters say their only similarity to the NRA is a wide interpretation of the Second Amendment—opposing new gun control laws. They called several new laws passed in 2013 by the California Legislature but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown “overprescribed political placebos that fail to cure... the root causes of violence.” That is best addressed by government support “for violence prevention: stronger mental healthcare, addressing poverty, homelessness and unemployment,” their press release said.

The liberal shooters took a few swipes at the NRA. They say they’re really put off by the NRA’s hatred of President Obama, its sloganeering and its right-wing homophobia. The Chronicle reported that Hoeber likes to garden, bake and make bullets. Eric Wooten, a longtime California Democratic Party activist and a member, called Obama “too conservative.”

Other liberals who have emerged from the gun-toting closet include Larry, “a retired Episcopal priest” who said that he found the club when he Googled “liberals” and “guns." “A lot of us here have been kicked out of other gun forums because of our liberal views.”

The Club’s website has a forum where members volunteer to talk to the press. It has their contact information and defiant quotes that are not very different from what you would find on Tea Party blogs, such as this Dorothy Parker tidbit, “I know the things I know, and I do the things I do; and if you do not like me so, to hell, my love, with you!”        

“If anyone ever wants to talk to someone who was, up to very recently, a complete anti-gun wacko and has since converted you can send them my way,” wrote Don1960lp. This post, from CDfingers, said, “I’d love to talk with the Brady Campaign—I’d invite them shooting with my Ruger MKII. They would have fun, and that would be that.” 

This is all politically entertaining, to be sure. But there are serious reasons why liberals abhor America’s obsession with guns and violence. The website had a few entries and links that began to address the key question of when to use deadly force in response to real violence. That is the crux of the dilemma facing liberals who do not believe that being armed, trained and ready to shoot is the best, or only answer, to violence—as the NRA clearly believes and touts.

“The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever,” Dang, a veteran, wrote, suggesting that force is occasionally needed to protect what matters in life. “But it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light amid the thorns.”

Most intriguing was this blog and link to a 2013 article in Good magazine by Sarah Stankorb, a Virginian who crossed the divide from peacenik to shooter.

After the Sandy Hook grade school massacre in December 2012, Stankorb went to NRA protests with the sign, “Teach kindness, not killing.” But soon after she became drawn to guns from a desire to protect her young kids. “There but for the grace of God go I,” she thought, summarizing her dilemma—and the question facing anti-gun liberals.

Her editor told her to delve into the hidden world of liberal gun clubs. She found herself driven by fear. She obsessed about bullet-proof child backpacks. She spoke with victims who couldn’t defend themselves or their friends who died. She decided to learn to shoot. Her instructor told her to control her breath, comparing it to taking a yoga class.

“Liberal gun owners represented a unique entry point into a world I didn’t think I would be able to understand,” she wrote. “Rather than the boogeyman, these were people who in most respects were like me.”

Stankorb found she that enjoyed shooting, even if it clearly left her conflicted. Here’s how she ended her lenghthy piece, trumpeted on LiberalGunClub.com as “a decent article by a reporter who started out as an anti.”

“I see in my own hands the blast, the thump of fear and adrenaline in my veins, and my finger depressing the trigger again. I know that however much it still scares the hell out of me to extend my body into the thrust and trajectory of a bullet, were the threat of harm to come to me or my children, I’d want to stand on this side of the gun—not aiming to kill, never to kill—but to have some force behind which to salvage what I love.”

It’s political fun for theSan Francisco Chronicle and GOPUSA’s Midday Report to trumpet liberal Californian gun lovers. But the bottom line is far more difficult. Far too many Americans love the power of firing weapons, turn to weapons to resolve disputes, and fantasize about their ability to pull the trigger and stop threats. 

As for Liberal Gun Clubbers who parrot the NRA’s anti-gun control lines, perhaps they ought to be the good NPR liberals and read an especially good book. UCLU law professor Adam Winkler’s Gunfight: The Battle Over Gun Control in America could teach them a critical and unappreciated lesson about American gun history and culture.

“The two ideas—the right to bear arms and gun control—are not mutually exclusive propositions,” Winkler begins. “In fact, America has always had both.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).