Gun Club for Liberals: The Un-NRA

Move over NRA: Now there's a gun club just for liberals.

February 18, 2014, 12:09 PM
PHOTO: Marlene Hoeber, left, and Eric Wooten, right, of the Northern California chapter of The Liberal Gun, Nov. 16. 2013.
Marlene Hoeber, left, and Eric Wooten, right, of the Northern California chapter of The Liberal Gun, Nov. 16. 2013.
Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle /Polaris

Feb. 18, 2014 -- Gun owner and Second Amendment advocate Marlene Hoeber isn't your typical member of the National Rifle Association. In fact, she isn't a member of the NRA at all.

The Oakland, Calif., laboratory equipment mechanic regularly visits firing ranges, where, along with other members of her gun club, she shoots a variety of weapons. "Guns are fun to play with," she says. She even makes her own ammunition.

She has no use, however, for the NRA's conservative political agenda. By her own description, Hoeber is a feisty, liberal, transgender, tattooed, queer, activist feminist.

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She belongs instead to another gun advocacy group entirely--The Liberal Gun Club--whose membership ranges, she says, "from socialists, to anarchists who can quote Marx, to Reagan Democrats."

Its mission, she says, is to provide "a place for gun owners to talk to other owners about neat gun stuff, without having to hear how the president is a Muslim-usurper-socialist running a false-flag operation."

San Jose member Walter Stockwell describes it as the NPR of gun clubs--without the tote bags.

Whereas the NRA has some 3 million members, according to Guidestar, and a budget of some $250 million, The Liberal Gun Club has 1,200 members nationally and a budget of $10,000, according to its head, Ed Gardner.

Although liberal gun owners are presumed not to exist, Gardner says they most certainly do.

By the most recent estimates, he says, about 40 percent of registered Democrats are gun owners (versus 60 percent of Republicans). He thinks 40 percent grossly understates the number of liberal owners. Reason: when some strange pollster calls an owner and asks, "Do you own a gun?" many say no to protect their privacy, according to Gardner.

The Liberal Gun Club is not alone in catering to left-leaning gun advocates. Kindred institutions include the Blue Steel Democrat, Gun Loving Liberal, Pink Pistols and the online publication American Gun Culture Report.

On its website, Pink Pistols (slogan: "Pick On Someone Your Own Caliber") urges "gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or polyamorous persons" to take up arms legally.

"We teach queers to shoot," says the site. "Then we teach others that we have done so. Armed queers don't get bashed. We change the public perception of the sexual minorities, such that those who have in the past perceived them as safe targets for violence and hateful acts will realize that now [they are] armed and effective with those arms."

The site notes that 31 states allow qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons and recommends that gays embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns.

The American Gun Culture Report, in publication since 2006, asks on its website:

"Do you like guns but hate 'gun people'? Are you uncomfortable when political 'progressives' support every Amendment from the Bill of Rights but [not] the 2nd? Does it make you crazy when 'conservatives' swear to uphold the 2nd Amendment but look the opposite way when other rights are trampled on?" If so, it says, then AGCR is for you.

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The publication is an outlet for the gun-related writings of "liberals, libertarians, queers, feminists, anarchists and socialists."

To what extent does the gun industry support any of these groups?

Hoeber of The Liberal Gun Club tells ABC News, "We haven't heard a peep. We'd certainly be interested in support from the industry, if the industry was interested in being seen as supporting us. Whether we would take their money would be up to the membership. We're not likely to turn anybody away."

Says Ed Gardner about the gun industry, "It would be great to be recognized by them. We're not your typical gun owners." But, he says, apart from some outreach from makers of gun accessories, the industry hasn't offered any support.

Hoeber says her own romance with guns began in childhood.

Growing up in Philadelphia, she says, she was 6 in 1976, during the Bicentennial. "The whole city was crawling with geeks in tri-corner hats and short pants explaining to small children how a flintlock worked. I was hooked."

Living in San Francisco in her early 20s, she walked into a S.F. gun store and saw a reproduction of an old, black powder rifle. "I could buy that and take that home," she says she said to herself—and she did. "I'm a technical and mechanical person. Tinkering is a major element in my personal involvement with firearms."

Her weapons today include a WWII M1 carbine rifle and a .44-caliber pistol.

We asked if there is any distinction to be made between the kinds of guns a liberal likes and the kinds a far-right conservative might prefer.

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Within the gun community, she says, conservatives have a stereotype about the kind of guns liberals like. "Conservatives assume, when they hear of our existence, that we're all into fancy double-barreled shotguns and rifles with wooden stocks." That's not the case, she says. "Our position is that scary black guns are very much okay. We do have members who think a limit on magazine capacity might be worthwhile. I personally don't believe that that kind of restriction makes the world a safer place."

Positions advocated by the Northern California Chapter of The Liberal Gun Club include:

"Additional regulations on lawful gun owners are over-prescribed political placebos that fail to cure the underlying systemic societal problems that are the root causes of violence. Instead of window-dressing 'solutions' like so-called 'assault weapons' bans and magazine capacity restrictions, we support root cause mitigation for violence prevention: stronger mental health care, addressing poverty, homelessness and unemployment."

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