About 30 members and supporters of the newly formed D.C. chapter of Gays Against Guns assembled on Connecticut Avenue outside the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Northwest Washington on Tuesday to protest a conference organized by the National Shooting Sports Foundation or NSSF.
Organizers of the protest said their aim was to “out” the little known foundation, which they say portrays itself as an advocate for hunters and outdoor sports enthusiasts but in reality is the national trade association for gun manufacturers, gun dealers and gun show operators.
“They have just as much influence on Capitol Hill as the NRA, but few voters even know who they are, the harm they do to the public, or which members of Congress they control,” said D.C. Gays Against Guns co-founder Michael Adolph.
“Their mission is to promote public policy that supports the production and sale of weapons in America, including military grade assault weapons designed for the mass slaughter of people,” a statement released by D.C. Gays Against Guns says.
Carrying signs saying “NSSF + NRA = Death” and chanting “How many more have to die?” and “No gun reform, no peace,” the protesters positioned themselves on the sidewalk on Connecticut Avenue next to the Woodley Park Metro station and just outside the hotel’s campus-like grounds.
Most prominent was a banner the protesters carried that appeared to be 30 to 40 feet long that stated in bold letters, “Gays Against Guns!”
Organizers said the backdrop for the protest was the NSSF’s annual Firearms Import/Export Conference, which was held at the Marriott Wardman Park Aug. 2-3.
“Gays Against Guns D.C. also called on Marriott, a longstanding friend of the LGBTQ community and corporate leader for equality, to explain where it stands on sensible gun policy,” Gays Against Guns D.C. said in its statement.
“It’s troubling to see your friends provide comfy beds and tasty cocktails to heads of an industry that revolves around violence, making and recklessly promoting and distributing the assault weapons used for the murder of your brothers and sisters,” said Adolph.
“We don’t doubt that Marriott cares about the LGBTQ community,” Adolph said in the group’s statement. “But lives are at risk here, and we simply ask them to show us they’ll stand with us in demanding sensible gun safety policy in America.”
In a statement released Tuesday night, Marriott said it serves as a hospitality company providing public accommodations.
“If a group or individual seeks to book space or an event at one of our hotels, and if to our knowledge that group or individual is pursuing their agenda in a legal manner that does not threaten the comfort or security of our guests and associates, it is our general practice to accept that business,” the statement says.
“In no way do we support or endorse any group or individual by virtue of accepting their business,” the statement says.
A spokesperson for the NSSF couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
On its website, the NSSF acknowledges that it serves as the trade association for the firearms industry. But it also states its mission “is to promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports.”
It says its membership consists of “more than 13,000 manufacturers, distributors, firearms retailers, shooting ranges, sportsmen’s organizations and publishers.”
Several participants in the protest carried signs saying “We are Orlando,” a reminder that at least a dozen Gays Against Guns chapters have formed throughout the country in response to the June 12 shooting rampage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that claimed the lives of 49 mostly LGBT patrons of the club.
As dozens of pedestrians walked past them, the protesters at one point sang the civil rights hymn “We Shall Overcome” as Silver Spring resident and protest participant Alfonso Fernandez Jr. read the names of each of the 49 people killed in the Orlando shooting.
“I think it’s going great for our first action,” said Gays Against Guns D.C.’s other co-founder, Phil Attey, in assessing the protest. “While it’s been great watching the reaction of the people on the street, it’s actually been more interesting watching the people coming out from the NSSF conference,” he said.
“They’re hearing us chanting ‘NSSF come out, come out,’ and they’re kind of going why are a bunch of gay people telling us to come out?” said Attey.
“But we are,” he said. “They need to come out of the closet as far as who they are as an organization. For too long they’ve flown under the radar as a group of duck and deer hunters that are concerned about the environment and safety,” Attey said.
“The American public has no clue that they wield as much power on Capitol Hill as the NRA and they’re equally responsible for the fact that we can’t get sensible gun control passed in Congress,” he said.