Margaret and Ellie talk about building a better culture around guns, the importance of gun ownership for community and self defense, some basic tenets of firearm safety, ideas around conflict deterrence, some problems with our current gun culture, consent and guns, mental health and guns, and unsurprisingly how community might be a big piece of the answer to maintaining better gun culture.
This show is published by Strangers in A Tangled Wilderness. We can be found at www.tangledwilderness.org, or on Twitter @TangledWild and Instagram @Tangled_Wilderness. You can support the show on Patreon at www.patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness.
Hopefully will come out Friday, December, 16th.
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy. And this week we are going to be talking about what it takes to build a better gun culture, a gun culture that keeps people safe instead of not safe. And, with me to talk about that I’m going to have on an instructor named Ellie Picard. And, I think that you all get a lot out of hearing what she has to say. But first, this podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchists podcasts. And here’s a jingle from another show in the network.
Okay, if you could introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and then kind of your background with the stuff that we’re going to be talking about today?
Yeah, for sure. My name is Ellie Picard, and I use she/her pronouns. Currently living in Charlottesville, Virginia, I’m originally from the District of Columbia. And, I’ve been interested in firearms for most of my life, I’ve only been actively shooting and training with guns for the last three or four years. I became a certified handgun instructor a few months ago, and I work with another trans instructor. Here in Virginia, we have a company called Arm Trans Women. And we offer classes, not just for trans folks, but for literally anyone who signs up. But, we particularly enjoy and emphasize the importance of teaching queer folks, people of color, other marginalized people, because we’re the ones who really need to know how to defend ourselves in our communities and our families, because no one else is going to. And I’m also a doctoral candidate, a researcher in political science, and my research focuses on radical queer militancy. And so studying and paying attention to radical gun culture, or queer gun culture has been a big part of my research life as well as my personal life. So, I’m not just actively, personally involved in these things. It’s something that I dedicate a lot of intellectual, you know, resources to thinking through and dealing with as well.
Yeah, I get really excited when I have on a guest and I didn’t even realize they’re even more qualified than I originally thought.
I’m not qualified, but whatever.
I didn’t know about the the academic work. Well, the main thing that I want to talk to you about, yeah, is this idea of building a better gun culture. But ,before we get into that, do you want to talk a little bit about the the trainings that you do? Like, what does it mean? Are you teaching to a certification? Are you helping people get, you know, concealed carry permits? Or is it more of like a self defense class? Or what kind of work are you doing there?
So, most of what we do is we teach heavily modified versions of the NRA basic pistol course and the NRA concealed carry course, because that’s what most states require people to take in order to get a concealed carry permit. Here in Virginia, folks need to take the basic pistol course. And then they can go and qualify for a license to carry. So, we do that we also are certified to qualify people for Maryland carry permits. And so, that’s mostly what we do is basic pistol classes and CCW classes, we also do some one-on-one instruction that can range from sort of basic to more advanced defensive shooting. And, if anyone listening has sort of taken one of these basic NRA courses, they are full of a lot of stuff that that is oriented toward the NRA’s ideology and projects. So, obviously we have sort of cut out a lot of that stuff. We emphasize why self defense and why gun ownership is potentially so important for marginalized people, and why we are sort of why it’s harder for us to engage with both firearms culture and the sort of infrastructure around learning how to to use and acquire guns, and all of the other ways that sort of traditional and well established firearms training, leave a lot of people out or sort of perpetuate a lot of the issues that exist in society, a lot of this sort of ingrained racism, and sexism, and other sort of things that are that are baked into our…a lot of our sort of firearms, infrastructure and commerce in this country.
Yeah. What are some of the things that you end up kind of taking away from the NRA’s version? Like, what are some of the things that are in the NRA’s training that are a little bit more ideologically focused?
A lot of their basic slide deck that they give instructors is…it’s just, it’s sort of steeped in this Second Amendment worship and basic sort of, you know, reverence for America and for our rights and freedoms of gun ownership, and for the political aspect of gun ownership, as the NRA understands it, which essentially, you know, protecting the rights of people, predominantly white men, because that’s the majority of their membership, to own guns. And, we take a lot of that inflected language out…well, we also take a lot of their you know, they’re also just the NRA materials aren’t very good at teaching what they’re supposed to teach, in some ways. They are very clunky. They haven’t been edited in a long time, they’ve a lot of extraneous material in there, the way that they phrase and talk about the rules of handgun safety is very different from the ways that we often talk about it in other gun communities online, so we sort of adjust that to make it more accessible and more consistent with the what we’re used to seeing and thinking about when it comes to gun safety. And we’ve also actually changed, taken out a lot of the actual, like, practical and technical stuff that’s in the NRA instruction materials, like the stances for handgun shooting that they teach, which are pretty outdated, and in our opinion, not as effective or preferable as, as as other stances and styles. So, we teach our own sort of version of what we call a natural fighting stance, rather than the NRA’s approved, like isosceles stance. So, things like that ranging from, from practical aspects to that sort of political inflection. And, we do, I mean, we certainly replace some of that with our own ideological inflections in our teaching, and emphasize the fact that not just American society, but also gun control laws and gun control efforts are often harmful to marginalized populations, and to folks like us and the people who we’re trying to train and arm. And, you know, the ways that this country has chosen to restrict access to guns, as well as the way that it promotes access to guns and sort of promote the proliferation of guns. These are all things that end up being harmful to minorities and marginalized people. And we sort of try to emphasize that and highlight that. I also make a point of doing things that I don’t…that are not in the NRA trainings, like talking about mental health and the importance of, you know, what do we do with all of these guns that we’re encouraging you to buy and carry, if we’re suicidal, and if we have people in our homes who can’t be sort of trusted or shouldn’t be allowed to, or able to access guns, stuff like that, that that’s often, you know, stigmatized or just ignored in other areas of gun discourse are things that we try to focus on and normalize and bring into the conversation as well.
Okay. Well, I guess to start out, then, why carry? Why is it worth…you know, as you pointed out, we have this like, massive proliferation of guns in our our society, right? What is it…And the answer is sort of self evident in some ways, but I’d love to hear…I’d love to talk about it. Why push for more people being armed? And why push for specifically, trans women to be armed or other marginalized folks?
So first, I mean, if we just look at the distribution of guns in this country, we have more firearms than humans in the United States currently, but they are overwhelmingly concentrated in certain among certain demographics. White men, conservative white men still make up a majority of gun owners. That’s starting to change, but it’s but not, not quickly. We’ve seen surges in the last few years of both people of color, women, queer folks, and liberals, and leftists buying guns at increasing rates, but that doesn’t mean that you know, white conservative men have stopped buying guns, and we’re not going to sort of catch up to them. And so I guess like that’s the first part of my answer is we a lot of the firepower in this country is concentrated, in what in my perspective is sort of dangerous hands, and in order to counteract that it makes sense to arm the folks who are generally disadvantaged by conservative, white male society. And the other thing is that, you know, we see that marginalized communities, queer communities, trans people, black people in this country are overwhelming are the targets of violence more often than white folks, statistically, proportionally, and yet less likely to be able to defend themselves with firearms, less likely to carry and be trained on how to use them. So, there’s that sort of aspect of it, where just sort of one can, I guess, think of that as trying to level the playing field. But, more I think, it’s not just about leveling the playing field, from my perspective, I also kind of have a deterrence mindset here on a larger scale than the personal. By which, I mean that, you know, it’s not just about, you know, broadcasting the fact that I as an individual transfem, I’m able to defend myself and own a gun, but trying to I guess, or I guess, I sort of would like to see the day where, where folks assume that if they see a transfem walking down the street, there’s a fairly good chance that she is armed, and she would, you know, she’ll use her gun to defend herself. If you fuck with her, the more that that kind of idea becomes ingraine, you know, the less…the more chance there is of sort of pre emptive deterrence of violence against marginalized people. That’s, I guess, the hope anyway. So yeah, I would like…
…Like becoming spiky.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I would like people to be afraid of me. I honestly would. I’m not a very scary person, but I do things to make myself more intimidating in the street, and I do things to make myself less desirable or appealing to normies and cis folks, and you know, arming queers and arming other marginalized people is part of that, sort of broadcasting or contributing to this broader understanding that oh, yeah, you, you can’t actually just fuck with those people. They’re not soft targets, and you’re likely to get hurt if you try.
Yeah. Well, okay. So I mean, the main reason that I carry or when I carry is, yeah, out of like, well, I mean, self defense, and I carry when I’m more concerned about my personal safety. But, you know, I like this idea of like, being spikier, be known to be spiky, right? Like, if you fuck with people, then it might go really badly.
But, the thing that you’re talking about earlier about, okay, kind of the leveling the playing field argument, it is a, it’s a different argument than the primary liberal argument in which, which has some validity from a higher level, but it’s like, counteracting by arming, or counteracting a right wing threat, by arming ourselves rather than trying to disarm the population. And it seems like, if you were a dictator, and wanted everyone to be safe, like when guns are not in the equation, people are generally safer. I believe that statistics sort of bear this out as, as at least as far as I’ve seen. And so in some ways, arguing that, well, they’re armed, so I should be too is, is escalatory, right? It is more likely to put ourselves in a position of conflict. And yet it still, to me feels like the appropriate approach to our current context. It feels like, I mean, one, we can’t disarm them.
The ‘We’ is not in power. And even if it was in power, then you’re just creating the systems by which people can make that kind of decision for other people. And that always goes very badly. Well, actually, not even ‘one,’ that’s just my main point, right, is that like…
I mean, I think, you know, it’s sort of a matter of basic physics, we can’t make all the guns in this country disappear. We can’t unarm the folks that I see is as primarily dangerous to us. That’s not possible. So, and you’re right, in doing so we’re sort of hand more power to people who we also also are likely to do us harm. But so I think, ya know, yeah, well, you could potentially see it as escalatory. But, absent that escalation, you’re not eliminating the potential for conflict. You’re eliminating the potential for us to win the conflict.
I guess like, that’s, you know, the other part of that that I didn’t really mentioned before, is you know, there’s a significant self defense aspect to why I carry it as as an individual, but there’s more of a community defense or collective defense aspect to it, honestly. I…if I’m just out by myself running errands and stuff, I’m nine times out of 10 not going to have a pistol on me, honestly. I have other things, I’m a knife slut, and I’ve got all sorts of other weapons. But, I don’t always carry a gun. When I do almost certainly carry a gun is when I know I’m going to be around other queer people, with other queer people in public and I know that I won’t be prohibited from it. Because that’s, you know, we’re more, we’re often you know, I’m not gonna say we’re more often targeted in groups than individually, that’s not true, but that’s where I really want that deterrent message to be clear as that, you know, is that queers collectively, are likely to be armed, not just me as an individual person. So, it’s being able to and prepared to defend our community, not just to defend my person, and to defend political existence, not just sort of physical existence, that I see as particularly important.
Yeah. Okay, so if…this is this is my logical thinking coming into this, and part of why I wanted to have you on is, if we are choosing to overall arm ourselves, right, and overall, try and create a, a spiky culture or position, a culture in which like, if large scale conflict or even small scale scale conflict happens, we’re capable of winning. If we choose to do that, it seems like there’s a lot of traps that we could fall into, that…because some of the problems of gun culture are not just the problems of right wing gun culture, because I do believe that there is a sort of center gun culture, or an apolitical gun culture in this country as well. It’s not as large maybe, but there are a lot of dangers involved in in gun culture, right. And this is something that I think about a lot as someone who, you know, promotes the idea that certain people should choose to be armed if their mental health and their community situation, you know, makes that make sense. How do we create a culture that doesn’t fall into some of these traps? Or minimizes the risks that…because there, it seems like a risk management rather than risk elimination, right…
…when you’re introducing firearms into a situation, there’s no way to, to make that completely safe. But, it seems like there’s ways that we can stay safer while doing that. And I’m wondering, you kind of hinted at some of those things earlier. And I’m wondering if you want to talk about those things?
Yeah, for sure, and there are a few different sort of, I guess, like scales, we can think about that at. But, one thing that I see that I think is very encouraging to me is is that thus far, if we look at discourse within leftist gun culture, and you know, I can get into this, you know, it’s it is worth sort of figuring out or specifying like, what the ‘we’ is that we’re talking here. But, leftist gun culture is extremely queer, it turns out already. We don’t have to make that happen. It’s just the way it has happened so far. And that sort of queer leftist gun culture idea’s….discourse about safety is really prominent, and I’m not sure exactly why that came to be the case. I think partially it came to be the case in response to or a sort of a, you know, a conscious way of differentiating this culture and these discourses from a lot of the ways that we see guns talked about in right wing gun culture, and maybe even in this sort of the more centrist gun discourse, but very basic stuff, like you know, the the four universal rules of firearm safety are things that if you’re in a leftist gun forum online, or somewhere, you’re gonna see this stuff constantly, like it’s over emphasized, it’s constantly there.
You can…go ahead and emphasize them.
Yeah, absolutely. So first of all, assume that every gun you encounter is loaded, and/or some people prefer to phrase that as, make sure you know the condition of any gun you encounter. And never point a gun at anything or anybody that you’re not willing to destroy. Always know your target, and what’s beyond it. And, when you are shooting or holding a gun, keep your finger off the trigger unless you’re on target and ready to shoot something. So, this is sort of four basic rules that we encounter every day that we’re sort of interacting with radical gun core, gun discourse, or leftist or queer gun discourse. And what I see a lot of also is, you know, in these online spaces or real world spaces, just a lot of critique, whether it’s like sort of humerous and making fun of people or more seriously criticizing folks for dangerous practices for, you know, unsafe gun handling, for unsafe attitudes, for bringing guns into places where they’re just don’t reasonably seem to make sense. These types of things.
Well, so I’ve, I’ve noticed a lot, or a fair amount of, of discourse and sort of debate about gun ownership among unhoused people and in, you know, in encampments and places like that, where most folks who are living on the street or living in tents or something aren’t going to be able to have a safe in their tent or with them as they’re moving around the world. They’re not gonna have a lockbox or something heavy like that. So is it responsible to have a gun in a situation like that? Even you know, we know that situations like that put people at more risk for violent crime and for being victimized, but is having a gun something that’s actually feasible and safe in that context? That’s the type of question that I that I see discussed a lot in the spaces that doesn’t, I don’t think come up to the same extent in in other areas of gun culture, sort of the more right leaning gun discourses out there. So yeah, discussions about whether or not it’s actually always a good idea or always safe or reasonable to have guns in certain contexts. Conversations about the logic and the suitability or appropriateness of open carrying and various public contexts, these are things that I think, receive a lot more attention and debate in our area of the gun world than in others. Not that everybody’s always on the same page, or always agrees, but that there’s discourse and debate about these things, I think is telling. And it seems like, no, I mean, I’ve seen queer online celebrities in the sort of online gun world get, you know, criticized or canceled for doing dumb shit with guns on Instagram or whatever, just being unsafe and not sort of upholding what this community has decided its values around gun safety are. That’s that I mean, it is becoming more common in centrist and right wing gun discourse to talk about certain things like mental illness. We see more and more programs, like Hold My Guns at, you know, mainstream, right wing gun shops and stuff where people are able to store their guns for free if they’re in a dangerous situation. So that’s, it’s not entirely absent. But, I think it’s something that we embrace and sort of emphasize more. It’s not just this thing, that’s never…that’s available, but not mentioned, or that sort of, you know, stigmatized, it’s understood that this is part of part of our lives, you know, as queer people tend to be very open about mental health, open about issues of safety and comfort, stuff that we talk about all the time in various contexts. And so adding that, you know, adding this sort of gun safety dimension to that is not difficult or uncomfortable for us as it is for some other folks.
To talk about some of the specific practices, I’m glad if gun stores are starting to do that. Because one of the one of the complicating factors in any kind of…I probably said this on the show before, but in general, I believe a thing that communities should consider adopting, and I’ve been part of communities that adopt this is that if you get broken up with, it doesn’t matter whether or not you personally think your mental health is doing just fine. Right? But at that point, your risk model has changed to self harm is more…is a higher threat than external harm in most situations. So like, I’ve been in parts of communities where it’s like, it’s not a question. So you’re no longer analyzing, “Oh, how am I feeling today? Should I give up my guns today,” but instead of just like no, if you get dumped, or you go through a bad breakup, or you know, a bunch of other different types of things, like, you know, one of your friends will come, and since the transfer of firearms is very complicated, legally, usually take the bolt out of any kind of rifle or take the, the barrel out of any kind of handgun, and just hold on to them until, you know, a little bit of time has passed and you can start having conversations. And I’ve been really proud to be part of communities that do that. And I don’t know I….that’s one that I like, I’m wondering, I’m curious if there’s examples of things that you’ve been around or things that you’ve seen have worked that are very, like concrete?
Yeah, I mean, that’s a that’s such a good example. I mean, I you know, I’m a firearms instructor and make a big deal about the importance of being armed. But, you know, I went through a thing a couple of months ago, and I gave a friend of mine the keys to my gun safe for several weeks. So, I think that it’s great to have norms and to have that as sort of like an accepted thing that we do. Other sort of concrete stuff, I think, like, as I was kind of hinting at earlier, one concrete practice that I see in leftist and queer gun communities is the willingness to just shame people with a pretty low bar for shaming for any sort of perceived unsafe practices. And beyond that, you know, we…I’ve been part of conversations about, you know, whether it’s appropriate or acceptable to, you know, have a have an occasion where we’re drinking and shooting guns, because drinking is fun and shooting guns is fun, so we can do these things together. And that’s something that that has been sort of an idea that’s been shut down pretty quickly. Obviously, this is not a universally agreed upon concept that you shouldn’t shoot while you’re drunk. But, it’s something that that I see a lot of people talk about and agree with.
I think you shouldn’t shoot while drunk. I’m just gonna go on the record here.
I’m gonna endorese that as well. In my professional capacity, I highly endorse that position. Also, you know, I see folks who do, you know, instructional content online, stuff like that, really emphasizing pretty mundane safety concerns around stuff like dry fire practice, you know, we make a big deal out of rules, like if you’re going to do dry fire practice, which everyone should be doing every day, by the way, you have all live ammunition in a completely different room of your house. You just have no proximity between ammunition and firearms when you’re not trying to have loaded guns for a particular reason. So, there’s that sort of thing. And it’s, I guess, like, what I mean by that is, if we, if we look at all of this sort of online gun content that’s created by leftists and queer leftists, I rarely see the importance of dry fire practice mentioned without also in the same breath, mentioning, make sure there’s no live ammo here. So things like that there’s sort of constant emphasizing of safety at every different sort of stage or aspect of gun ownership is definitely a thing.
Okay, well, beyond gun safety, right? Gun Safety is like kind of one element of it. But, I think that some of the negative feedback I’ve heard, and honestly, some that I share about the gun culture that we’re building, or things that we could be doing better, one of them for me is that I…I see, and I’m curious, your thought about this, like, a balance between people starting to go kind of macho, and then people kind of trying to rein that in. And I don’t necessarily mean macho, and I like masculine way, it’s a very complicated word. But, you know, this idea of like, Hmm…I think that sometimes people get excited around the concepts of conflict, and they get excited by having the means to deadly force on their person. And personally, and I, you know, say this, as someone who’s, you know, roughly 40, or whatever, it’s easier for me to say, in some ways, I think that that is a terrible, a grave mistake. I think that carrying is this very serious and weighty thing that changes the way that you interact with space, it changes the way you interact with people, both strangers, and your friends. And, it should be felt as a burden in the same way that any, like heavy responsibility should be felt as a burden. If I am carrying I have accepted the responsibility of staying sober. I’ve accepted the responsibility of defending other people. I’ve also accepted the responsibility of like not being able to talk shit, which is like really frustrating. This is kind of a tangent, but like, one of the…one of the most annoying things for me about carrying is that you just gotta let shit go.
And, and sometimes that’s not how you want to be. But I worry about an excitement around guns, turning into an excitement around conflict, rather than being a prepared for conflict. And I’m curious, your thoughts on that. This is me sticking a question mark at the end of my own statement.
Yeah, I mean, I think that the way you’ve just sort of talked about the the weightiness of carrying and carrying a gun as a responsibility, I really see those same ideas very prominent in the discourse. Basically, like I would say that most people I talked to explicitly about, you know, gun…about carrying guns and about self and community defense have said similar things to me. And I’ve also I’ve heard from a number of, of, of radical gun owners, you know, not just that sentiment that you’ve expressed, but also this, and I don’t know how, you know, valid and true it is, but this idea that well, the other folks, you know, focus on the right conservative gun owners, they don’t have this mindset of responsibility and of avoiding conflict. In fact, you’ll often you’ll often sort of see or perceive this, this eagerness for conflict. You can go into right wing forums and hear people talking about how excited they are to, to have an opportunity to be a good guy with a gun, to use that gun. That’s an idea that a lot of folks on the left have expressed to me and these conversations like, and I, I have never sort of tried to do a quantitative study of whether or not that that’s the case. But, I certainly see, even if there’s not this eagerness for armed conflict among the people we envision as our opponents or as, or as our threats, there is this ingrained and very vocal idea in queer and leftist gun culture that eagerness for conflict is wrong, that, you know, we’re not carrying because we want to find an opportunity to use these things. We’re carrying with the steadfast hope that we never will, and that, and the sort of commitment to minimizing occasions for having to use these tools of force. And I think, you know, I see a lot of folks, you know, talking about all of the other things that one has to know how to do if one’s going to carry a gun. And this is something that I talk about when I’m teaching as well, you know, if you’re going to carry a gun, you had better also be carrying something less lethal, you would also better be confident in your skills to at least try to de-escalate a situation, and to try to escape a situation. You know, the way the way that I sort of think about it, and that I I see a lot of other people talk about it is, you know, the first best option, if you’re in a threatening situation is to leave it. And if, or only when you cannot escape that situation, you should be prepared to fight. And if you’re going to be prepared to fight, you need to be prepared to win. And that’s particularly important when other people are involved when talking about a sort of community defense situation, rather than than an individual personal defense situation. It’s not about courting violence, but it’s about you know, understanding that when you are at that last recourse, that you have that recourse and you’re prepared to use it. But I do see that this idea emphasized pretty frequently and pretty prominently in the discourse that you know, that we have this responsibility to know how to avoid, to know how to minimize or de-escalate conflict, and that we cannot ever sort of go around looking for it.
Whether or not that really ends up being the case in practice is a little bit harder to say, I mean, you know, we’re seeing a lot more leftists and queers bringing arms to public demos and protests and stuff like that. That’s not a bad thing. Because a lot of the time that people who are threatening these public events and demos or whatever, are doing so with arms. And I think, as I said earlier, like armed deterrence is crucial for our community. So, I’m not opposed to people making a show of arms in public. But we have to make sure and, you know, I can’t sort of say without a lot more data, that when we’re doing that, we’re not doing it provocatively. And there’s sort of, you know, I, I have seen, I’ve seen in some contexts, some discourse around defending…for instance, there, in certain parts of the country, there have been a lot of attacks or threats against drag queen story hours, or other sort of queer events in various places and armed defensive operations to protect those events. When we’re doing that, are the people who are showing up to defend or who are talking online about those defensive actions, are they talking shit? Are they, you know, flaunting this ability to use armed force? Are they sort of going out and and thumping their chestat the adversary or the imagined adversary? If they are, that’s highly problematic, and I’m not gonna say it doesn’t happen. I think sometimes it does. I do think that, that our discourses tend to stress the responsibility and the necessity of avoiding that, but I don’t know that it actually happens less frequently than with other, you know, with folks on the right. I hoped that it does, but…
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s why I was wanted to frame it at the beginning. It’s like talking about minimizing the problems that are going to be involved when you introduce guns, because I think it’s on some level impossible to introduce firearms into a situation and not have people feel….Some people feel some level of excitement around that, right? And, and I don’t think that’s inherently wrong, I think it’s just something that we need to be like really cognizant of. And I do wonder, you know, this idea that the right wing, you know, is chomping at the bit…champing at the bit, whatever, you know, in order to cause violence or whatever, I suspect that it’s at a higher rate. But I also suspect, the sort of center right, or the more like, just excited about guns and just excited about comu….well, they probably wouldn’t phrase it community defense, but just excited about like, the concept of being a, you know, protective person or self defense or whatever. You know, when I personally interact in a gun space with someone who probably isn’t ideologically aligned with me, they take that weight very seriously. But, as compared to…I don’t, I probably don’t interact with the far right, you know, on purpose ever and so it’s hard to know, but I think that another thing that I worry about, especially in a situation, it’s basically it’s like, everything is a lot more serious when there’s a fucking gun on the table.
You know, I worry about anything that we do to dehumanize our enemies, while still recognizing that they’re…I mean, they’re enemies, there’s increasing section of the US population that would like to see me dead, that believes I am a like crime against the Bible or something for existing, you know. And I seek to be prepared for those people coming to power, those people individually trying to harm me or my community. But I worry about…a lot of rhetoric that I think the left used before everything was armed, probably can’t really keep going now that everyone is armed around this kind of like, oh, well, fuck all of these people who are outside my own ideological framework or whatever. I think we have to be like way more specific about who…I’m trying to be really careful about my words here, because I can kind of see both sides of the same of the thing that I’m saying here. But I think we have to be really careful about who we declare an enemy. You know?
I think that’s fair. Yeah. I mean, that that makes a lot of sensee. Absolutely. I and it is definitely, there are definitely tendencies on the left to adopt a kind of, you know, if you’re, if you’re not with us, you’re against us mindset towards society at large and toward, you know, the political realm, especially. You know, we often as leftists, and as as queer people, you know, talk shit about liberals and talk shit about centrists. I mean, this idea that literally everybody out there wants to hurt us, and is part of the problem. Yeah, it does. That can certainly translate into sort of a not just a factionalization, or a hardening of social identities, but to a dehumanization, I think. I think it’s absolutely right to call out that risk. One thing that that sort of made me think of, though, it’s kind of a separate, it’s a distinct issue, but I think it’s relevant in some ways is whether or not we dehumanize the people who are on quote, unquote, “our side” as well. And I think one really important difference between between radical gun culture, and both centrist and sort of state friendly gun culture and far right gun culture is whether or not armed people are distinguished from everybody else. And I think, you know, one of the most common catchphrases in leftist politics and street organizing and direct action, all sorts of stuff is you know, “We keep us safe.” And that’s a phrase that actually really encapsulates an important concept that it’s not about…carrying a gun for most of us, I think is not about being that good guy with a gun, like yes, you’re equipping yourself to be able to use armed defense, but you are not separating yourself from the people you’re defending. Whereas I think, on the right and and traditional or or sort of mainstream hegemonic gun culture, there is this distinction, it’s, you know, one takes on the role of the protector of the family, of women folk, of whatever, of people who aren’t able to are capable of protecting themselves and sort of separates themselves from the rest of the group from society, whereas I think that, or I see that on the left there’s any sort of distinction between, you know, armed protectors and everybody else is frowned upon, is often countered sharply, rhetorically, and the ideal instead is that we all of us collectively participate in our own defense and in our mutual defense. And if we do so with arms, that doesn’t sort of make us different, it doesn’t put us in a different caste than everyone else who isn’t armed. It’s just sort of, that’s our capacity that we’re able to take on. It’s what we choose. And we all have different roles to play in defending the collective. Some people do that through arms, but they’re not sort of, you know, the assigned defenders. And this comes up a lot in street action contexts where, you know, you have people, you know, throughout 2020, we saw folks doing protest defense and stuff like that. And there was often a lot of debate or argument about, you know, the, the concept of people providing security or people sort of taking on the role of being part of a security team. And that’s been heavily criticized in a lot of quarters. It’s like the idea of, of sort of separating yourself out like that, it just makes you a makes you a leftist cop. It doesn’t make you…it takes you out of the collective. So, that’s a, that’s an aspect that I think is extremely valuable in our gun culture.
And both things are related to the same thing about how guns escalate problems of power and authority, right? And so we have to be more on top of our shit, in terms of avoiding any sort of authoritarianism, avoiding any sort of, yeah, leftist cops or whatever. No, that’s such…I remember, the first time I heard about this sheepdog concept I was doing…I was sitting by the side of the road at a forest defense camp like 20 years ago in the land far, far away. And a cop drives by and I, you know, radio it in, and he’s like, “Hey, you’re on channel four, aren’t you?” And I’m like, “Yeah, whatever.” And I was like, “Hey, I got a question for you.” And he’s like, “What?” I was like, “Why did you decide to become a cop? It’s like, the most hated job in the world. Like, why would you do that?” Which I do not advocate this as a way to interact with police. But it was what I chose to do. And, and he was like, “Well, that’s not the way I see it.” And I was like, “Well, how do you see it?” And he’s like, “There’s three kinds of people in this world. There’s, there’s wolves, and there’s sheep.” And I was like, “Okay, that’s, that’s two kinds of people.” And he was like, “And then there’s me, I’m a sheepdog.” And I thought about it for a minute. And I was like, “Are you calling me a wolf?” And then he like kind of couldn’t justify that because I was literally just some fucking hippie punk by the side of the road and trying to stop some logging. And so he like rolled up his window and drove away. And, and it was the first time I heard of this concept that’s very common in police circles. And, I don’t know if it’s common in right wing militia circles, but it’s common in a lot of like right wing gun culture, at least center right gun culture, this idea that the world is sheep and wolves, and you are the Sheepdog, the other dangerous creature, you know, the good guy with the gun. And it’s always rubbed me the wrong way. And you articulated it better than that. I just want to tell the story about yelling at a cop, which no one should do.
Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. Yeah, that’s sort of, you know, I see a lot more calling out of that kind of mindset than I see a repetition of that kind of mindset in leftist gun culture.
Yeah. No, this is actually very exciting, because I am not deeply involved in…well I live alone on a mountain. And so hearing you talk about the way that these things are developing and stuff feels very optimistic to me, not in a like blind optimism, like just like, literally, like, it seems like these are the conversations that are happening and that need to keep happening. I’m wondering if there are other, you know, weaknesses that we need to shore up or like things that you think that we should be doing better? Or things that you’re really proud of that we do? I mean, I guess you’ve talked about some of the things that we should be proud of, that we take these things into consideration, but…
Yeah, and maybe I’ll start with another one of those sort of, ‘Yay for us angles,’ which is the you know, gun ownership and, and the capacity or skill for armed defense in queer and leftist gun culture is…has been strongly or been pretty decisively detached from any version of masculinity that exists in our world. And what we see a lot of is sort of celebrations of or acknowledgement of this link between both queerness broadly and queer femininity and guns. There’s been a lot of sort of, I see a lot of reclaiming of, of sexuality, of links between sexuality or sexual expression and gun ownership, but done in ways that are extremely positive and empowering and self determined rather than sort of ex….rather than based on an external male gaze, but based on the sort of like, “No, I am a sexy queer femme, and I’m gonna pose naked with my rifle, because I fucking feel like it.” There’s a lot of that, you know, very conscious and overt queering, and regendering and resexualizing of guns and of competence, you know, of gun skill that goes on in this discourse in these communities, which I think is really cool and really healthy. Things that that we’re…that we’re not great at, or that we need to be careful of. I think that you know, that sort of sheepdog concept that we were just talking about, it’s what…that’s an ever present threat, and it’s something that’s going to wax and wane based on context. When we had, you know, in 2020, when we had shit going on in the street all the time, and so many more people getting armed and so many people, both participating in street protests and direct actions, and people engaged in defense of those actions, the more of that we saw, the more slippage there was in this sort of, you know, dedication to a pure and unadulterated, you know, collectivity and non differentiation of protectors and protected. So, that’s always going to be a significant pitfall when things get hotter, and when things get more active, and, and arms are needed more prominently and more frequently. It’s something that’s always…it’s a battle that always has to be fought both sort of in one’s own psyche and in the community. That one’s not going to go away. I also sort of…I wonder about the, I mean, I think I’ve sort of talked about regendering and I think that that’s happening in a way that that makes a lot of sense. And that is very positive as I’ve said, but there are also pockets of leftist gun world where armed defense is mostly being done by white cis men, or even, God forbid straight men. And there does seem to be this sort of, not necessarily a conscious or deliberate division of labor. But, you know, in this society, boys grew up playing with guns, and men are still more likely to own guns and be comfortable around guns than women are. And I think it may be the case, it may, it may be the case, in fact, that the reverse is true among trans people for that obvious reason of socialization. But either way, those gender divisions still do exist. And it has to be a conscious and deliberate process of undoing them, otherwise, they’re going to just stay there. So assuming that you know, that queers are going to automatically queer gun culture is overly simplistic. We won’t. We have to really want to, and we have to be always trying to complicate, and queerl and question gun ownership and everything about owning and using guns, and not just assume that we’re going to do it better than they do, because we’re better people, because we’re more evolved people, because we’re, you know, leftists and we don’t want to hurt people. So there is that, for sure. I think also, you know, I mean, I guess the sort of biggest pitfalls are the ones we’ve already talked about that one, and then also the problem of whether or not people are going to be seeking out or, or might be more likely to get into conflict. Other than that, I mean, one thing that is always going to be an issue with guns is access, and particularly access in terms of affordability, monetary access, like, it’s still the case that, that guns cost a lot of money, and certain of us are going to be more able to buy them than others and certain of us are gonna going to be, you know, more likely to prioritize that in our budgets than other people. And I think that working a lot more, to bring access to guns and to defensive skills in line with our leftist sensibilities and values is really important. It’s not enough to just, you know, want everybody on the left to get armed. What are we doing to make sure that people who can’t afford a gun still get one and know how to and are trained and using it, people who can’t afford to take classes are able to do that. We have to be taking really deliberate and conscious steps and building a sort of infrastructure in order for that to happen.
And we still don’t see anything, you know, like large scale efforts to manufacture and distribute guns among queers and leftists, which is totally feasible, it’s something that can be done, but we’re not doing it. And it’s still, you know, it’s still cost a lot of money to do something like take my basic pistol class, and we can sort of put aside free seats or have sliding scales for stuff like that. But if we’re not actively doing that, then we’re not making things more accessible for everybody, we’re still sort of following the same lines of access and division and distinction that already exist. So that, you know, yeah, so that’s a big one to me.
Well it’s interesting, because one of the things you brought up earlier about how, in some ways within a queer gun culture, trans femmes probably have, like, it’s possible that we are the more armed, contingent or whatever. And, you know, and I think that, you know, the point you brought up about, like, growing up playing with guns and things like that, and just like, the socialization we receive, based on, you know, the sex we’ve been assigned to birth or whatever, seems to play a big part in it. And it also, I think it does position us in this, in this way to be good at bringing these skills into femme spaces. And maybe that’s like a little bit too, I don’t know, it’s the kind of conversation it’s like, sometimes hard to have, because I think people have a lot of, for very good reason, very intense feelings about, you know, what it means to be trans feminine, what socialization looks like, all of these different things. But I have found that not universally, whatever, I’ll just my…Twitter brain is on. So I keep thinking about everything I’m saying, and how could possibly be considered wrong. But I have had experiences where I often learn better from women, and other women I know often learn better from women. And so I’ve been able to use that in positive ways, as a woman teaching other women, or as someone who isn’t a cis man teaching other people who aren’t cis men. And I think that is something that, you know, we can really break down and a lot of my friends who are, you know, cis men or, you know, straight cis men or whatever, you know, are wondering how to put their skills that they’ve carefully cultivated to use and training and stuff like that. And I think that that is very useful and very important. But I personally would say, and you might have, you’ve probably done more thinking about this, teaching trainers, you know, teaching other people who can then go out and be trainers, rather than necessarily being the end…the person who teaches all of the students is a good way to then actually distribute power and break down a lot of siloing of information. I don’t know.
Yeah, no, I mean, I think that’s, that’s a really good point. And just generally speaking, anytime we can take whatever privilege we find and distribute it, and thus undo it, it’s always a positive thing. But I think you’re right. I mean, I definitely, throughout my life always avoided whenever possible male teachers and male instructors or male authority figures at all in preference for female ones. And that still remains the case. And I think that that is, that’s pretty common, for sure. So it’s, it is important, we need to be conscious of that. And I think, you know, making sure that men with particular skills don’t just sort of automatically appoint themselves as the the teachers of these skills is a great point. Yeah.
So I’ve one final question. And it’s like many of my questions today, not incredibly well formed. But we talked earlier about self harm, and how communities need to, you know, stay aware of everyone’s kind of risk model and things like that as relates to self harm. But, there’s also intimate partner violence. And one of the things, one of the push backs I’ve gotten from, you know, a queer anarchist friend of mine, who I had a conversation with this about recently, is sort of part of the mourning of the army of the left is even while accepting on some level, the necessity of it based on what’s happening in the world and what’s, you know, the increased likelihood and increased presence of the need not just for self defense, but community defense. Is that…Well, basically that it statistically, historically makes a lot of people less safe, in terms of intimate partner partner violence, and specifically like…I should have looked up the studies before I started recording, but I’ve, you know, I’ve read some articles about some studies that talk about how a cis woman who lives with a man with a gun is just less safe on a like statistical level. And it opens up a lot of questions. And one of the questions for me, is how does a community decide, you know, decide who has guns at any given moment? You know, how does…How do we minimize the danger of not just self harm, but of like, you know, people getting mad about some bullshit?
Yeah. That is such a tough question. I think that…
Yeah, I saved the easy one for the end.
I mean, and I guess, you know, I’ll admit, first of all that, you know, this is not an area that I particularly specialize in is sort of thinking about domestic partner violence and intimate violence, but it’s something that matters a great deal, obviously. I think that clearly having guns in the house, as you say, is, is going to make people less safe who were in abusive relationships or violent relationships. But I do think, you know, again, it’s not gonna be blind optimism at all, but we do think a lot more in queer communities and in leftist communities about all of the ways that people need to be able to access safety and able to escape dangerous situations, and, and also the ways that, you know, danger and and sort of harm and in the domestic environment hide from public view and from the community. We think about these things more than other…that doesn’t immunize us to these dangers, obviously. And I don’t know how to really ensure that we’re…I don’t know how to minimize this threat effectively, other than to probably I think, normalize and really spread the idea that what’s going on in each other’s relationships, and homes, and families, actually is the business of the community. And I think that that’s, you know, that opposes a lot of thinking that, you know, exists in mainstream society, and especially in like, sort of nuclear family based society, where in the house and the household is sovereign and sacred. I think that leftists in particular, and queers in particular, because we have different understandings of what society is supposed to be. And we, particularly queers, have different understandings of what family is supposed to be and can be, there’s a better…we have an opportunity to sort of establish norms of maybe one way to think about is domestic transparency, you know, it’s not just my business how I treat my spouse, or my partner, or my kids, it is, in fact the business of my comrades in my community, the business of, you know, my buddy on the community defense team, my, you know, my friends and sort of comrades at the mutual aid project or whatever. It’s all of our business whether or not I’m in an abusive situation, whether or not I am an abuser, whether or not you know, somebody in my life is dangerous to me, or is at risk. I guess making these things our business and normalizing some level of that transparency in that in the household and sort of making more porous, those boundaries of domesticity and of intimate relationships may be part of the solution here, or part of the way that we mitigate that danger more effectively than society has done thus far.
No, that, that makes a lot of sense, it does feel like almost every time there’s a problem, the answer is community. You know, and it keeps coming. It’s a recurring theme on the show, and not even necessarily on purpose, you know, just as you think through various types of problems. I do think that there’s something that I wish…well, I’m opinionated about, which doesn’t make me right, but I’ve seen some discourse around and I’ve not been totally pleased by what I’ve seen, personally, which is that like, around consent and guns, around the idea that like, like…if I’m going to have someone over to my house, I want them to know the situation of the guns in the house and I want them to have a say in that, you know? There’s like a would…is it okay if someone brings a gun on a date discourse, right, that I’ve I’ve seen a bit of, and like, you know, there’s sort of a, “It’s nobody’s business if I’m carrying,” and I don’t believe that. I believe that it would be a perfectly reasonable position to be like, I’m going on a date with someone and I don’t know them very well.I don’t want them to have a gun on them. I think that that is a, a reasonable thing that someone could want or a thing that might be worth clearing with people, you know, if that is like, a thing you do regularly, for a lot of reasons. And, you know, a lot of people need guns to be unavailable in certain ways for a lot of different reasons.
I don’t know. That’s really more of a…I keep doing this statement instead of question thing in this conversation.
No, I’m super glad that you brought that up. I think that’s really important. And I’ve sort of…since I started carrying, I have myself, made that a practice, essentially, I don’t carry a gun on a first date. And thus far, it’s been my practice to make it a second date conversation. “Hey, I sometimes carry a pistol.”
“Does that make you uncomfortable?” And if it does, like, that’s okay. I don’t always…I don’t have to carry it when we’re together. And so far, the people I’ve done that with have told me “No, I’m feeling much more comfortable knowing that you’re caring. I like that. And I think that’s good.” So I think that is a conversation that really, it’s definitely no harder or no more awkward to have than all of the other things we have to be talking about on first and second dates, like, you know, or, our STI status and all of that sort of stuff. And, and yeah, being conscious of that. And, you know, for instance, are you going to see a friend who who has kids living with them? Are you going on a date with somebody who has a family? Like…Are there people involved in the situation who do not have the opportunity to consent to me being armed? And if so, I…It’s probably best that I’m not until I can, you know, change that dynamic. I think that that’s a great way to think about it is connecting it to that consent conversation. Absolutely.
Yeah. Yeah. Well, maybe that’s a good note to end on. Unless you have additional things that you really feel like we should have covered or….
No, I think I thought of something really brilliant a little while ago, and then it went away. So I think I’m happy there. Thank you.
Yeah, well, okay, if people are interested in knowing more about you, or your classes, or any of the stuff that you do, is that something that you want people to know about?
Yeah, for sure. We, my co instructor and I, have a an active Instagram presence that people can check out that’s a somewhat clunky username but if you’re on Instagram, it’s “ATW” as in arm trans women, “dot firearms dot INST” (ATW.Firearms.Inst). And It’s not a good handle, but it’s the one we have my own handle on Instagram is “Codename_Ellie” and people can very easily connect to my all of my gun work through that personal account as well. In addition to some other cool stuff that I do, so yeah.
Cool. All right. Well, thank you so much for coming on.
Thank you, Margaret.
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Thank you, Margaret.
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