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Lewiston Morning Tribune
P.O. Box 957
Lewiston, ID 83501
Phone: (208) 743-9411
Fax: (208) 746-7341




Gays take up self defense; Organization teaches safety, protection with handguns


Wyatt Buchanan

MOSCOW -- If you ask Scotty Evans what's the best way to help prevent gays and lesbians from becoming victims of hate crimes, he'll give you a two-word answer:

Arm them.

"Self defense is a basic human right that I really believe in," says Evans, 39, a computer programmer who moved to Moscow from Canada nine years ago.

Evans and his wife, Jean, have started a Palouse chapter of the Pink Pistols, a national organization that works to educate gays on gun safety and ownership and encourages members to carry concealed weapons.

The national group, launched in 2000, has 32 chapters in 23 states, with the Palouse chapter forming in the past few months. Evans is also president of the Palouse Practical Shooters gun club.

A handful of people have joined the Pink Pistols, which can be done by printing a membership card off the Web site, and Evans expects numbers to increase. Homosexuality is not a membership requirement.

Gay group members declined interview requests for this article.

After University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was killed for being gay, Evans says he needed to respond in some way.

He later saw a reference to the national Pink Pistols group, thought it sounded like a good idea but didn't know if he was qualified.

"I got an e-mail about a straight couple in Virginia who started a club, and it sort of just went from there."

Evans operates a Web site and list serve for members.

Nationally, the impetus for the group was an article on Salon.com by a writer whose gay friends successfully thwarted a hate crime by displaying a concealed weapon.

This is not the first group with these goals, however. A Seattle group called Cease Fear formed several years ago with National Rifle Association instructors offering self-defense classes to residents of Capitol Hill, Seattle's traditionally gay district.

"We wanted to help these people out," says Joe Huffman, who helped form the group and now lives in Moscow. "As long as they stayed in their area, there were no problems. But sometimes a group of thugs would go in and decide to bash gays. The police can't always get there right away."

Huffman is vice president of the Palouse Practical Shooters and is also a member of the Pink Pistols.

The biggest challenges in starting both groups have been stereotypes on both sides, Huffman says.

"When we formed Cease Fear, we went to the leaders in the gun movement and the people who organized the gun show in that area. We would make the case that it was good for us and that these people, of all people, needed training with handguns to defend themselves."

They bought the argument, though they were not happy about it at first, he says, and persuading the gun community was only half the battle.

"We had to convince the gay leadership that, just because we belong to the NRA and advocate handguns, we were not a bunch of redneck Neanderthals dragging our knuckles down the sidewalk."

On the Palouse, Huffman is bridging that gap through combined shoots with Pink Pistols members and gun club members.

A few weeks ago, the monthly outing involved several scenarios that dealt with hate crimes against homosexuals, like one that placed the shooter in a scene where he had to deal with intoxicated fraternity boys tying someone to a fence post.

The notes on the scenario start this way: "While returning from an anti-Fred Phelps rally in Moscow, Idaho, you see something suspicious on the side of the road."

The Rev. Fred Phelps leads an anti-gay church in Topeka, Kan., and made national news when he held a sign saying "God Hates Fags" across the street from the funeral of Matthew Shepard. His group planned to picket the University of Idaho July 6 but settled for a minor demonstration in McCall.

Others scenarios placed shooters in alleys where groups of thugs were harassing the shooters and their partners.

No members of the Pink Pistols came to the shoot, but the Palouse Practical Shooters did the scenes anyway.

"They did the scenario without complaint and with great humor," Huffman says.

That bodes well for acceptance between the groups.

"I expect it to be easier than in the Seattle area because guns are a more standard item on the Palouse than on Capitol Hill."

Evans had a booth at the Palouse Pride Fair a few weeks ago and says reaction from attendees there was positive.

He says most shooters care more about defending the Second Amendment than sexual orientation.

Don Wood, a member of the Lewiston pistol club, agrees with that sentiment.

"Anyone willing to come into the camp and help defend our rights is welcomed -- maybe not with open arms and maybe with rubber gloves, but they're welcomed."

This group is what the state needs to help with its sullied national image, Evans says.

"When we asked about forming the club, we got an e-mail back saying, 'A group in northern Idaho?' That's the response we wanted. So much for right-wing Idaho gun nuts."

Palouse Pink Pistols may be reached on the Net at http:/www.pinkpistols.com/local.palouse

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Buchanan may be contacted at city@lmtribune.com



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