October 27, 2016

US Gays Against Guns campaign to target gun companies

Gays Against Guns activists join the Pride march in New York this year. Photograph: Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Hundreds of gay activists will begin a campaign of civil disobedience and direct action against gun companies and their supporters on Monday, to demand an end to the epidemic of gun violence blighting the US.

Members of Gays Against Guns, a group formed in the wake of the massacre of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando earlier this summer, said they would “no longer stand by and watch the gun industry profit from death”.

Organizers of the collective, which has more than 300 members in New York and chapters in nine other cities across the country, said they were prepared to break the law and get arrested in their fight against gun manufacturers, their shareholders, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its corporate backers.

Ken Kidd, who is helping lead the group’s direct action campaign, which kicks off on Monday, said GAG would go much further than other gun control pressure groups, such as the Brady campaign and Everytown, by “targeting not only politicians, but other baddies that work with the killing machine”.

As well as directly targeting the US two biggest gun companies, Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co, the campaign – which is modeled on and includes members of the 1980s direct action gay rights campaign group Act Up – will also go after their investors.

“We are targeting corporations that either invest in the gun industry or align themselves with the NRA,” Kidd told fellow activists at a planning meeting at The Center in Manhattan’s West Village last week.

On Monday, the group will gather for a “die-in” at the headquarters of the investment firm BlackRock, which is one of the biggest investors in Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger, whose assault rifles have been used in several recent mass shootings.

“Here is a company whose CEO, Laurence Fink, prides himself on their socially conscious investment yet comes right out and tells clients that mass shootings worked to their financial advantage,” said campaigner Cathy Marino-Thomas. “They’re smart enough to acknowledge they profit from massacres but can’t find a way to unload those stocks? That’s amoral.”

BlackRock said it held the gun companies’ stock on behalf of third-party investors in its US aerospace and defense fund, and pointed out that it had other portfolios in which clients can choose to avoid investment in firearms, tobacco and alcohol manufacturers.

“BlackRock values diversity and has a history of supporting the LGBT community,” a spokesman said. “We condemn senseless acts of violence in any form including the recent tragedy in Orlando.”

John Grauwiler, a 45-year-old New York City school teacher and cofounder of GAG, said that after BlackRock, the group would target other funds that invest in gun stocks and then companies that partner with the NRA. “It’s us or them,” he said. “End your relationship with the death business or the LGBTQ community ends its relationship with you.”

Companies that offer discounts to NRA members include all of the major car rental companies, Visa, and the insurance firm MetLife.

“These companies give discounts to NRA members and we want them to know that you can court the LGBT dollar, but if you get into bed with the NRA, we’re going to fucking break up with you,” said Kidd, an administrator and veteran LGBT activist who took to the streets as part of Act Up and Queer Nation in the 80s. “They will know we are a force to be reckoned with.”

On its Facebook page, GAG declares: “Queer complacency is over. We call for a ban on assault weapons and sensible gun regulation. We will not let our 49 siblings’ death be in vain.”

Tim Murphy, a novelist and GAG campaigner, said the Orlando massacre showed that the community could no longer sit back and watch “the gun industry and the gun lobby refuse any gun control laws of any sort”.

“We were deeply affected by every mass shooting that took place prior to [Orlando], but to see so many of our LGBTQ family murdered in one night was a tipping point we could no longer ignore,” he said. “We have a deep repulsion in our bones for bullies as gay people who grew up in a less-welcoming America.”

https://gaycenter.org/contactusMurphy, 47, said gay people have a track record of “effective and bold organizing” and members were prepared to “do illegal things” to ensure the movement’s message is heard.

“There’s never been a gun violence prevention group that has used disruptive, confrontational and sometimes illegal actions that we used in the Act Up fight [for governmental action during the HIV/Aids crisis].”

As they prepared for next week’s campaign, Kidd warned the hundreds of activists “there is a risk of arrest”. “We are going to be telling them [the companies and shareholders] about crimes where these guns were used. If they are not listening to us, they need to listen to the silence of people that are no longer here.”

While the group is prepared to break the law, it has a strict nonviolence and non-defacement policy. “We want to make the world a prettier, not uglier, place” Murphy said. “But we want to shine a light on the ugliness of a gun industry that is making record profits and a hold on Congress preventing gun control action.”

Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger recently reported record profits as Americans’ demands for new guns continues to spike after every mass shooting. The FBI said there were a record 2.2 million background checks for people in advance of buying guns in July. It was the 15th straight month of record-breaking number of checks, and and increase of more than 1m on July 2011.

The increasing demand for weapons has helped send Smith & Wesson’s share price soar 36% higher so far this year; it has quintupled since Barack Obama became president. Sturm, Ruger’s shares are up 11% so far this year; they have increased eightfold since April 2008.

While the Orlando shooting shocked the world, reaction to it among the gay community has diverged. Some, like GAG, have joined the fight for stronger gun control laws; others have taken up arms in self-defense. Membership of the predominantly LGBT gun club the Pink Pistols tripled in the week after the Orlando attack in the early hours of 12 June.

The gun group, which aims to promote the “legal, safe and responsible use of firearms for self-defense of the sexual-minority community”, said that if more Pulse patrons had been armed, they might have prevented the shooting or minimized loss of life.

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