As the six-month anniversary of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando arrives on Tuesday, there is skepticism that the LGBT movement can make progress on gun safety reform at the federal level with Donald Trump headed to the White House.
The massacre at Pulse nightclub that left 49 dead and 53 wounded occurred on June 12. At the time, the event energized the LGBT community to take on gun reform efforts, but progress on that front seems unlikely under the Republican-controlled Congress and President-elect Donald Trump, whom the National Rifle Association endorsed.
David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the nation’s largest LGBT group has “found a lot of enthusiasm in our membership” on gun safety after the Orlando shooting, but cautioned challenges exist after the election.
“I think we’re seeing a lot of energy around it,” Stacy said. “It’s a tough environment. I think a lot of the fights are going to be at the state level, and I think, since the election, everyone’s sort of re-evaluating what is possible.”
The Human Rights Campaign adopted a resolution to support gun safety measures days after the Orlando shootings. Among the organization’s achievements since that time Stacy said are pushing the U.S. Senate to approve gun safety measures proposed by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and co-hosting events with Everytown for Gun Safety and Americans for Responsible Solutions, such as one that took place at the Democratic National Convention in July.
Asked what resources HRC would bring to the fight, Stacy said, “our membership and engaging our members on these issues. Again, how engaged our members will be is a bit of a question mark, but based on the post-Orlando period, we did find a fair amount of enthusiasm among our members and a willingness to engage in an issue that isn’t directly an LGBT issue.”
Jason Lindsay, executive director of the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, established the political action committee shortly after the Orlando shooting and said momentum in the LGBT community continues to build.
“I think if you look at Pride Fund doing electoral work, you have ‘Gays Against Guns’ doing protests and advocacy work and then you have the existing gun reform groups, things have continued to grow since Orlando and folks are excited now more than ever to keep pushing forward,” Lindsay said.
But the level of commitment from major LGBT groups isn’t enough for one advocate.
Mark Glaze, a gay D.C. political operative who’s worked on both LGBT rights and gun control efforts, criticized national LGBT groups like the Human Rights Campaign, which he said have not stepped up to the plate on gun safety.
“If the major LGBT groups’ contribution to gun safety is working to elect Hillary Clinton, which they would have done in any event, that is not engaging on gun violence prevention, in my view,” Glaze said. “And if they are avoiding engagement so as not to offend three gun-owning gay men in Texas, then they have fallen into a trap the NRA laid long ago.”
Although Glaze made an exception for grassroots groups like “Gays Against Guns,” which he said has been active “virtually minutes after the Pulse shooting,” he said major LGBT groups have “run away from the issue scared” because of potential LGBT donors who may oppose gun safety measures.
Glaze added those LGBT groups should “get behind” the long list of proposed gun reforms.
“And by get behind, I mean real engagement, like asking their members to contact members of Congress and having their lobbyists lobby on the issue,” Glaze said. “If the LGBT community, which we now know is at enhanced risk of gun violence, puts their backs into helping pass legislation, that is significant. If they fail to do so because they’re afraid of losing $20 in contributions, that’s significant as well.”
One group that takes a distinctively different approach to gun safety is Log Cabin Republicans, which advocates for the right of LGBT Americans — and U.S. citizens generally — to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment.
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, expressed support in a letter dated Dec. 5 to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) for the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would prevent states with more restrictive gun laws from prohibiting those from out-of-state from legally carrying a gun.
“As a cohort of individuals more likely to be targeted for violence and even death because of our sexual orientation or gender identity, Log Cabin Republicans feels there is a heightened interest the LGBT community in the United States should take toward safe and legal firearm possession, and the additional security that concealed carry reciprocity would allow,” Angelo wrote.
After the election, any hopes are dashed that Hillary Clinton would be able to lead on the gun safety issue as president and sign into law expanded background checks and “no fly, no buy” legislation. If anything, the Republican-controlled Congress and the White House may be in a position to roll back existing laws seeking to prevent gun violence.
The National Rifle Association unveiled a video after the election in which NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre pledged to go on offense during the Trump administration. Among the group’s priorities are eliminating gun-free zones at schools, easing requirements for background checks and ensuring that concealed carry handgun permits in one state are recognized everywhere in the U.S.
“This is our historic moment to go on offense and to defeat the forces that have aligned against our freedom once and for all,” LaPierre says in the video. “The individual right to carry a firearm in defense of our lives and our families does not and should not end at any state line.”
Stacy said while gun rights advocates may be fired up, they won’t have the energy to roll back restrictions, especially with incumbent U.S. senators up for re-election in 2018.
“My sense, but without a lot of talking to a lot of people about it, is that there’s not going to be a lot of enthusiasm from this Congress in the near term, in the next four, six, eight months, to start rolling back gun safety measures with so much else on the agenda,” Stacy said.
Glaze said while continued progress on gun safety may not be possible, he doesn’t think the current makeup of Congress would allow for a reversal of existing laws.
“Is there a path forward for strengthening gun violence prevention in Congress? Probably not,” Glaze said. “But with 48 Democrats and the use of filibuster, can we stop the NRA’s attempts to further weaken gun laws? Absolutely.”
One bright spot for gun safety advocates on Election Day was the victory of Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th congressional district over incumbent Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.). Murphy, endorsed by the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, supports universal background checks and “no fly, no buy” legislation, while the NRA-backed Mica was criticized for accepting campaign contributions from the gun lobby 48 hours after the Orlando shooting.
Jason Lindsay, executive director of the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, said Murphy’s victory demonstrates the combination of gun reform and LGBT rights are “strong election issues.”
“When she got in the race, she was 18 points behind in the polls and ended up winning by almost three points against a 12-term Republican incumbent and a long and huge Republican landslide,” Lindsay said.
Under Trump, advocates to look to states to make progress
With an expected standstill at the federal level, gun safety advocates may increasingly look to state legislatures to build on the success already seen in recent years.
Glaze was among those optimistic about success in state legislatures despite the federal election results, saying gun safety advocates made tremendous progress in the last five or six years and could make more.
“I continue to believe that there are majorities for gun safety in approaching half of the state houses of the country, and that’s where I would expect gun safety as well as LGBT advocates to be focusing their attention,” Glaze said.
Stacy pointed to state-by-state wins in the LGBT rights movement before federal victories as evidence that wins at the state level in gun control could mean success at the federal level in the future.
“As we take a look at marriage equality, the state-by-state battles were really essential to ultimately winning the Supreme Court fight because one of the things the court did look at was all these states are doing it and there’s no problem,” Stacy said. “It’s not been a disaster. It’s working well. The public’s receptive to it. That’s really important.”
Stacy added the cross-border issues that would emerge as some states pass gun safety laws, but others don’t, could create a problem with guns moving across state borders and “create a compelling argument for why a national solution is needed.”
In 2016, at the same time voters elected a Republican Congress and Trump won the White House, voters in California, Washington and Nevada approved strengthened gun safety measures and another narrowly lost in Maine.
Lindsay said he expects gun safety advocates to be on “defense” under the Trump administration, but those state victories demonstrate support for the movement is strong.
“Polling shows gun reform is a top concern among constituents,” Lindsay said. “So we think there’s still going to be a lot of advocacy on the issues, and we still think there are a lot of Democratic members who are passionate about reform.”
Meaningful change at the federal level, Glaze said, will occur when Democrats regain a majority in Congress and likely push a law requiring background checks for all gun buyers, whether the purchase is from a federally licensed firearms dealer or an unlicensed private seller.
“We have allies among the Republican majority, but as long as McConnell is in charge and in the pocket of the NRA, I don’t see us passing legislation,” Glaze said. “In the event of another catastrophic mass shooting, I hope they prove me wrong.”