I’ll never forget the first piece of safety advice I got when I began my transition from the male body in which I was born to the female body I now occupy: Carry a whistle.

Why? I asked. Because, I was told, I might need to use it if I was attacked. After further discussion, I understood I was supposed to blow the whistle during such an assault in hopes it would send someone running to save me.

The idea was preposterous. Not only was it ridiculous to assume that the sound of a far-off whistle would send some do-gooder careening into a dark alley to break up a brutal hate crime, but the implication behind it insulted me. I, being transgender, wouldn’t be able to save myself. Someone else would have to help me.

Violence toward the LGBT community is real. We are victimized at far greater rates than other minority groups. More often than not, we face multiple attackers – they do these things in groups. Our perpetrators are not trying to rob us, or steal our cars, or take our jewelry. They’re trying to break us. The attacks are frenzied and quickly escalate from harassment, to fists, to something altogether different. People die.

If you find yourself in a violent encounter, you’re lucky if you get three seconds to react. If you want to save yourself, you have to go on offense. And one thing is certain: A whistle isn’t going to cut it.

The attack in Orlando reminded me of this old piece of advice. I was driving home from San Francisco with my daughter when I first learned that 49 people – my people – had been killed.  I wasn’t immediately shocked or sad, and I wasn’t angry at the madman killer, the guns he used, or the radical Islamic beliefs that led him to it. I was furious with the LGBT community that preaches non-violence, votes for politicians who don’t protect them, and who, as a result, are targeted.

In the days since Orlando, my pro-gun LGBT group, Pink Pistols, has tripled in size. While I’ve been advocating – loudly – on behalf of this issue for years, it’s clear it’s time to come out and say it on a national stage: If you’re gay or transgender, you can’t sit and hope that laws will protect you. They won’t. And you can’t rely on the police. Orlando is proof you could bleed out in the time it takes for them to arrive.

Attacks on the LGBT community don’t happen just because we’re a minority. They happen because we’re perceived as being easy targets. It’s time to change that.

We need to engage in our own discourse following the Orlando attack – one that’s different from the national conversation. This was not only an attack on America, this was an attack on us. While America at large debates what laws could have prevented this, what role Islam plays, and which political party is to blame, we need to get practical: If you don’t defend yourself, no one else will.

Most would agree – as do I – that violence is rarely the answer, and it’s never a first line of defense. But when someone attacks you, they volunteer for you to hurt them. When my friends tell me they’d rather die than resort to violence, I tell them fine, I’ll light a candle at your vigil. It’s your choice. But those are the stakes. Don’t kid yourself otherwise.

Let’s imagine a different scenario in Orlando. Let’s say 10 percent of bar-goers that night were CCW holders and half of them were armed. That’s about 15 armed people already inside the club. The shooting happened fast, maybe too fast to have stopped it midway through. But after the initial shooting, what if half of those 15 people survived, and upon realizing what happened, fought back? Could innocent people have been hit? Yes. But could the gunman have been taken down? Yes. Ask yourself how many of those people would still be alive if they’d gotten immediate medical attention.

I used to have reservations about concealed carry permit holders carrying in bars. But that was a perception based on an emotional reaction, and not fact. CCW holders have proven themselves to be among the most lawful in America. Studies have found them to be more law-abiding than the general public, and even more law-abiding than police officers. I encourage everyone to consider this fact. Gun owners are just like you and I – except they have guns.

Many in my community view guns as evil. They see them as immoral killing machines that should be heavily regulated, if not eradicated.  That’s because they only hear about guns when the story ends tragically, or when they see them used in violent movies. But every day, Americans use guns to defend themselves and most of the time they don’t even have to pull the trigger. The mere appearance of a firearm saves their life.

This is a call to the LGBT community to start taking its own defense seriously, and to question the left-leaning institutions that tell them guns are bad, and should be left to the professionals. Become a professional. You’re allowed. That’s what the Second Amendment is for. To ensure we can fight back when our lives depend on it.

Nicki Stallard

Nicki Stallard is a retired trans-woman who has worked as a spokesperson for the Pink Pistols from 2006 to present. She is also the San Jose Pink Pistol coordinator and a proud, fearless leader in her community.

Stallard is also the social, outreach and training coordinator for the state of California.