A Brookhaven shooting range is welcoming members of the fledgling Atlanta chapter of the Pink Pistols by offering a meeting space and a place to shoot and learn gun safety basics following the attack on a gay Orlando nightclub that left 49 people dead and more than 50 injured.
Many of the victims in the attack at Pulse nightclub in the early morning hours of June 12 were Latino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, which has led to a renewed interest in the Pink Pistols, an international organization catering to LGBT gun enthusiasts. The slogan for the organization is “Pick on someone your own caliber.”
The first meeting of the Atlanta Pink Pistols organization is Wednesday, June 22, at Brookhaven’s Quickshot Buckhead on Buford Highway, just a stone’s throw from the Buckhead border.
Zak Koffler who lives in Decatur and works in Buckhead, frequents Quickshot Buckhead because of its location near his office. He’s been a member of the Atlanta Facebook group for the Pink Pistols for many years – but after the massacre in Orlando on June 12, the number of people joining the group has jumped significantly.
“We’ve seen the group jump from 43 members to 143 people in less than a week,” he said on June 17. As of June 20, there were nearly 250 members of the Facebook group.
“After something like this [mass shooting] there is a need for people to band together, to defend themselves,” Koffler said. “It was shocking.”
Gwendolyn Patton, First Speaker of the international Pink Pistols, said the organization’s members grieve with the victims and their families.
“At such a time of tragedy, let us not reach for the low-hanging fruit of blaming the killer’s guns. Let us stay focused on the fact that someone hated gay people so much they were ready to kill or injure so many,” she said in a statement.
“A human being did this. The human being’s tools are unimportant when compared to the bleakness of that person’s soul. Our job now is not to demonize the man’s tools, but to condemn his acts and work to prevent such acts in the future,” Patton said.
Koffler said he joined the Pink Pistols more than a decade ago after he came out as gay, looking to be with people who have the same interests. While personal defense is a reason he carries, Koffler also said, “I just like putting holes in paper.”
But interest in self-protection always rises after a mass shooting. And while the act has been condemned as a terrorist act, Koffler also said he believes the shooter was homophobic and purposely targeted LGBT people, specifically Latino and LGBT people of color, out of that hatred. The gunman did also called 911 in the midst and said he was an “Islamic soldier.”
“Anything more visible … stands out as easier to target,” he said. “He clearly had mental issues.”
Koffler learned how to shoot while attending a private Jewish summer camp in North Carolina when he was a boy. “Sports weren’t my thing. Shooting I could do,” he said.
Many people, including GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump, said if people in the nightclub had been armed, the numbers of those killed would not have been as many. Koffler is not convinced.
“There might be an occasion where someone might be able to defend themselves, but at 2 a.m. in a packed nightclub, where no one is sober – just the idea someone could defend themselves while intoxicated” is not guaranteed, he said.
“I’m of the opinion that having a gun in that kind of situation puts you at more risk,” he said. “You need to have that extra training and experience that those in military and law enforcement receive – no ordinary civilian has that.”
There are many LGBT people in the metro Atlanta area as well as throughout the state and Koffler said he is a firm believer that people who want to know how to shoot have that right and need a safe environment to learn gun safety and skills.
“The framers of our Constitution had incredible forethought – it’s amazing how broad the language of the Second Amendment is,” he said. The amendment’s basic value, he said, is to ensure the citizenry is not afraid of the government but that the government is more afraid of the people.
But Koffler acknowledges he doesn’t know how he’d react if he was with a group of people being attacked by a gunman.
“I do carry, but I don’t know if I’d ever use it unless there was no chance of hurting someone else,” he said.