Op-Ed: How an Imaginary Gun Saved My Life
The following op-ed was originally published at Advocate.com. Repubilshed with permission of the author.
by Jimmy LaSalvia
Two years ago the federal government passed a law ostensibly aimed at preventing violent hate crimes against LGBT people. Many gay conservatives, including me, said at the time of its passage that the law would do nothing to actually prevent hate crimes. After this weekend, I can now say firsthand that this law hasn’t stopped violent, bias-motivated crime.
What the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 did accomplish was almost exclusively political: giving the big liberal LGBT lobbying groups and the president a symbolic victory. Meanwhile, more and more folks, like me, are becoming the victims of violent antigay crimes.
Friday evening I was on my way home from the GOProud office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., when I came upon a group of young black men. There were roughly eight of them.
It was such a nice day that I had ridden my bicycle to work, so I was on my bike when I approached them. I was on the street but kept to the right side of the lane so that cars could easily pass on my left. This put me within a couple of feet of the sidewalk, where the group was walking toward me.
Just as I got up to them, the assailant lunged off the sidewalk toward me and delivered a punch across my chest. The momentum of my bicycling drove me into his fist and arm, causing a shocking pain like I’ve never felt before. Just as I began to realize what was happening, I heard it. The words are still ringing in my ears as I write this — “Fucking faggot!”
The wind was knocked out of me, but as I regained my breath I screamed, “You!” and pointed at him. It was clear to me in that moment that my sexual orientation had motivated this attack.
Then there was a weird silence. Nobody knew what would happen next. The assailant and a couple of the others puffed up their chests and were obviously ready to continue the attack. I had been able to catch myself so that I didn’t come crashing down off the bike, but I was still in a vulnerable crouching position sort of under my bike, halfway on the street and partly in the gutter.
The situation could have gone either way: I could end up beaten or dead, or we could all go our separate ways.
All I could think to do was to get to my backpack and find my phone. As I fumbled for the phone, I heard one of them say, “Does he have a gun?”
So I kept my hand in my backpack, allowing them to wonder whether I was reaching for a gun. Then a couple of them started to run away, and the others soon followed. I got back on my bike and pedaled as fast as I could out of there.
When I got home, I began to reflect on what had happened, and more disturbingly what could have happened. I am in contact with the LGBT unit of the police department to file a report. But I’ve thought a lot about the turning point of the situation — the fact that one of them thought that I might have a gun. None of them said, “There’s a law against antigay hate crimes!” That wasn’t the deterrent. It was the possibility that I might have had a gun that saved my life Friday night.
I have been an advocate for concealed carry laws and Second Amendment rights for a long time, but I just haven’t felt compelled to own a gun myself. I grew up in a family of hunters, but I haven’t gone hunting in years. And until now, I have always felt safe in Washington. After all, D.C. is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. I never thought I would be a victim of bias crime here.
Now I know I should own a gun. This realization will cause me to redouble my efforts to advocate for state concealed carry laws and for federal concealed carry reciprocity legislation so that permits are recognized across state lines. I hope more gay and lesbian Americans will join me in this effort to allow everyone to lawfully defend themselves against violent crime.
Although concealed carry is, unfortunately, not legal in the District of Columbia, I do intend to buy a handgun to keep in my house. Even though I didn’t actually have a gun, I now know the power of lawful gun ownership to save lives.
Jimmy LaSalvia is executive director of GOProud.