Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - Bill of Rights

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Liberal, gay. . .and loves guns

By San Francisco Chronicle - 12/2/2014

Marlene Hoeber is feisty, tattooed, transgender, a self-described feminist, a queer activist -- and a crack shot with her favorite "toys," guns of just about every kind.

One thing she's not -- and proud of it -- is a member of the National Rifle Association.

"We make ourselves a special place where we don't have to hear about the 'Kenyan Muslim socialist' in the White House," said Hoeber, a biotech equipment mechanic who says she's politically "somewhere around Emma Goldman," the turn-of-the-20th century anarchist.

Instead, Hoeber -- whose array of firearms includes an M1 carbine rifle from World War II and a custom-made .44-caliber pistol -- and other left-leaning gun lovers have their own organization: the Liberal Gun Club.

A good thing, says Hoeber, since she would never consider joining any club that has "Grover Norquist on the board," as the NRA does.
It's unlikely that Norquist, the conservative organizer, would find much to like about the liberal group that boasts more than 1,000 members nationally, including a recently formed Northern California chapter with about a dozen members.

The Liberal Gun Club backs a wide-open interpretation of the Second Amendment that lets law-abiding citizens possess just about any type of gun. But that's where its similarity to the NRA ends.

"If I walk into a gun store with an Obama T-shirt -- which I wouldn't wear, because he's too conservative -- I don't fit," joked Eric Wooten, a longtime California Democratic Party activist and member of the Liberal Gun Club.

Wooten and Hoeber have banded together not only to reinforce their love of a sport and a hobby, but to flex political clout from the left side of the spectrum.

NRA's 'reactionary politics'

The NRA is "a valuable organization" that has helped educate people about the safe use of guns, Hoeber said. But in recent years, its leaders "have attached themselves to reactionary politics," she said.

"I can't put money into a group that gives campaign contributions to people who (say) how terribly wrong it is to walk down the street holding my girlfriend's hand," Hoeber said.

Club members enjoy hanging out with like-minded leftist "gun geeks" put off by what Hoeber called the "current antics of the gun culture."

The group's members are generally "consistently left of the contemporary Democratic Party" but include "Clinton and Obama supporters, and even Reagan Democrats," Hoeber said.

And she insists there are many politically liberal folks in California who are eager to shoot, learn marksmanship, buy and collect guns -- or even own guns for self-protection -- except "they think gun people are people they want nothing to do with."

The group, through its website,, has ramped up membership efforts and also plans on forming a nonprofit advocacy group to speak out on gun legislation.

The club praised Gov. Jerry Brown when he vetoed seven gun-control bills in the last legislative session, including one by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, that would have required gun owners to register their low-capacity rifles as assault weapons if they had detachable magazines. New sales of such weapons would have been banned.

More regulations on lawful gun owners "are overprescribed political placebos that fail to cure ... the root causes of violence," the gun club said in a position statement. Instead of "window-dressing 'solutions' like so-called 'assault weapons' bans and magazine capacity restrictions," the group argued, government should back "mitigation for violence prevention: stronger mental health care, addressing poverty, homelessness and unemployment."

The group also views monetary disincentives to gun ownership, such as ammunition taxes, as "class barriers" blocking the poor from exercising their constitutional rights.

For Hoeber, gun ownership is a political act.

"I have really strong feelings about my distaste for the state having the monopoly on force -- and about my distrust of the police," she said.

Gun-control advocates, she said, show "the same kind of faith-driven disconnect" as antiabortion activists. "It's an incremental chipping away of rights that has a lot in common with the antichoice movement," she said, "the argument that 'we're just trying to protect the children.' "

Even background checks go too far for most members of the Liberal Gun Club.

Wooten says requiring lawful gun owners who have already passed background checks to go through the process again for additional purchases is burdensome and unnecessary -- "kind of like having to take a driver's test every time you change cars."

Guns and socializing

The liberal gun owners meet every few weeks in ranges around Northern California to shoot together, try out each other's weapons and socialize.

But they also relish the opportunity to educate the public on firearms and gun safety, and happily give visitors the opportunity to learn the basics alongside experienced shooters.

"We're the NPR of gun clubs -- without the tote bags," said Walter Stockwell of San Jose. He said he joined the club to improve his marksmanship among people who view the world like he does.

On a recent Saturday, club members showed up at the Chabot Gun Club in Castro Valley with an array of weapons that might horrify most of their left-leaning friends.

On display was an AK-47, one of the most widely used guns in the world -- or what Hoeber laughingly called "the rifle that turns peasants into rebels."

There was also Hoeber's M1 carbine, considered an assault weapon under California law because it holds more than a 10-round magazine. It was a favorite of 1960s leftist revolutionaries such as the Black Panthers, and Hoeber said she bought it partly because "I live in Oakland -- and the Black Panthers are important part of our history."

Members also took target practice using a semiautomatic Ruger 10/22 rifle, a Winchester rifle dating from 1892, a .357 Magnum and an AR-15 rifle.

Hoeber's childhood love of such guns has morphed into collecting, tinkering and even making her own bullets.

"I grow my own vegetables; I bake my own bread," Hoeber said. She makes her own ammunition "for the same reason ... cost savings, more control and higher quality."

For years, she said, she thought "there's got to be somebody else out there" with her political views who shared such passions.

Isolation among liberals

Living in the Bay Area, it took a while to find them. She and other members acknowledge that left-leaning gun lovers are one group that's still very much "in the closet."

Larry, a retired Episcopal priest who declined to give his last name for publication -- he's worried about what friends and co-workers may think -- says he found the club "the same way everyone else here did: I Googled 'liberal' and 'guns.' "

The Liberal Gun Club is "the only place that would have me," he said with a laugh, while loading his weapon. "A lot of us here have been kicked out of other gun forums because of our liberal views."

Carla Marinucci is senior political writer for The San Francisco Chronicle.

(c)2014 the San Francisco Chronicle

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