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Wednesday, October 16, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific

Guest columnist
Pistol-packing proponents of gun-owner tolerance

By Matt Rosenberg
Special to The Times

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Call them gays, gals and geeks with guns. These "double-affinity" gun-rights supporters are changing the political landscape nationally, and in the Northwest.

Nicole Shounder of Lynnwood is an out and proud, post-operative transsexual lesbian who voted for George W. Bush. The former Air Force sergeant, now a nurse, heads a regional group called Cease Fear. It promotes firearms education and training for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered (GLBT). Her story is part of the upcoming documentary, "Guns and Roses," by Seattle filmmakers Soyon Im and Jhett Bond.

Shounder says, "I'm in sync with Democratic Party values, but their gun-control stance doesn't work. We stand out as possible targets, and we are not going to let harm come to ourselves or our loved ones."

Shounder owns a Smith and Wesson .45, a discreet Kel-Tec .32 for formal dress, and a non-lethal Taser. Unlike the heinous sniper terrorizing suburban Washington, D.C., Shounder vows never to use her weapons on another person unless for defense.

Cease Fear is part of a nationwide network of GLBT firearms education and training groups usually called Pink Pistols. Ex-Microsoftie and Puget Sound refugee Joe Huffman assisted in the formation this summer of a Pink Pistols group in the Palouse, straddling the Washington-Idaho border.

This National Rifle Association-certified firearms instructor is married with kids. His Palouse Pink Pistols self-defense course draws gays and straights. Huffman says there's good-natured joking, and everyone's tolerance has grown.

As a tech-support staffer, Rolf Nelson helped found the Microsoft Gun Club. Members take target practice (off-campus, of course), arrange bulk ammo buys, and attend club-sponsored lectures. Another technology-industry group involved in firearms education and advocacy is Geeks with Guns, based in Austin, Texas.

Now completing a master's degree in education for a job as a high-school teacher, Nelson says that "the typical stereotype of a gun owner is a redneck who goes out Bambi-blasting each fall. But gun owners are a real cross-section of society." He adds half of U.S. homes have firearms (recent estimates range from 45 to 50 percent).

Nelson says Al Gore shot himself in the foot with his gun-control position in the 2000 presidential campaign. From the Democratic Leadership Council to Gore's old Memphis, Tenn., congressional district, the party's brain trust agrees. More specifically, Democratic and independent political analysts say that Gore would have carried Tennessee, Arkansas, West Virginia and Missouri thus winning the presidency but for his strict gun-control platform. It included national photo IDs and licenses for gun owners, plus a vow to oppose legislation bolstering the rights of non-criminals to have concealed weapons.

According to a recent Washington Post article, Gore's gun stance was also seen as a factor in seven key 2000 House races in Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Minnesota, which cost Democrats the House majority. Since then, Democratic candidates for the U.S. House, Senate and governorships in Southern, Midwestern, Plains and inland Western swing states have dramatically softened gun-control positions to win over "Reagan Democrats" and younger "NASCAR dads."

Meanwhile, new firearms laws here won't go far, as the diversifying gun-rights lobby continues flexing its muscle. For instance, Shounder lobbied attendees at this year's Washington State Democratic Party Convention with Cease Fear's Ray Carter and Joe Waldron, executive director of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Shounder says Washington Democrats were attentive and open. Democratic incumbents doorbelling in Seattle outside the Birkenstock zone have been known to get an earful from those in favor of preserving gun rights.

Also in the mix is Second Amendment Sisters, a 10,000-member national gun-rights group for women. The organization's Washington state spokesperson, Robin Ball, a Spokane shooting-range owner, says, "You make a call to 911 and they're not on your doorstep fast enough. Single women with children, especially, feel it's their responsibility to be able to protect their families."

Ball trains NRA "Refuse To Be A Victim" class instructors on topics including arms, non-lethal force, home and auto security, identity theft and financial fraud.

To many, the letters N-R-A remain as unsettling as recent events in Maryland and Virginia. Eastside resident and software developer Don Baldwin, who describes himself and his wife as political moderates, once felt that way. He reports, "I joined the NRA fearful I would be surrounded by nuts and racists. That not being the case, I am now a life member. ... The NRA was teaching NAACP members safe gun use in North Carolina in the 1950s" and, Baldwin adds, today in Washington has supported outreach to gays and lesbians.

Firearms involved in tragedies make headlines and fuel sweeping prejudices. Far more often, they are used safely and legitimately for sport or deterrence, though that's rarely "news." Seattle filmmaker Im says the firearms owners she encountered while working on "Guns and Roses" were "extremely responsible, and very cautionary." That's true of the vast majority, and their influence will only grow.

Seattle writer Matt Rosenberg is a regular contributor to The Times' editorial pages. E-mail him at oudist@nwlink.com.

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