Two years ago, Ermiya Fanaeian helped create the Utah chapter of the student gun control group March For Our Lives. Today, the 20-year old is helping to resurrect the defunct Salt Lake City chapter of the Pink Pistols, a pro-2A group focused on defending the right to keep and bear arms for members of the LGBTQ community. What happened to turn the college student from a gun control activists to a Second Amendment supporter?
“As working-class people, we should not be disarmed,” she said. “There is everlasting violence against LGBTQ people that oftentimes politicians, on whatever side of the aisle, are not addressing, and we need to be able to protect ourselves. And because of that, I came to this understanding that the March for Our Lives goals do not align with my goals.”
Fanaeian was a 17-year old high school student when a killer walked onto the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and murdered 17 people. In response, she helped to organize a pro-gun control protest at the Utah state capitol attended by thousands of students. She was quoted in papers at the time telling gun owners that “we don’t wish to deprive you of your fetishism for your menacing weapons,” but now she’s become a gun owner herself.
“I used to think that guns were a scary thing,” she said. “Back then, I would have agreed with Joe Biden’s assertion to take everyone’s AR-15s away. And now I own one.”
Fanaeian may have shifted her views on the Second Amendment, but her political ideology is still further to the left than many gun owners in deep-red Utah. The good news, at least for those of who view armed self-defense as a human right, is that she’s not alone on the left in embracing the right to bear arms. The Salt Lake City chapter of the Pink Pistols, which had fallen into a state of limbo after its founding a few years ago, has found new life with Fanaeian engaged in outreach.
“We’ve had folks from all different walks of life in all different parts of the state reach out to us,” she said. “They express their wants to finally be able to defend themselves, defend their families and defend their communities. … They didn’t know it was an option for LGBTQ folks to do so.”
Anyone can join the Pink Pistols, and Fanaeian says the group is currently made up of college-age people of all races and sexual orientations, including Ashton Leve, a graduate student who joined the group as an ally about a month ago.
“With all the things that are going on in the world, there’s a lot of hate. Every voting period seems to bring out the worst in people,” said Leve who, like Fanaeian, has been a gun owner for less than a year.
“It never really occurred to me that (LGBTQ people) get hit or assaulted just for being who they are,” he said. “I felt like this was a good way to reach out and address some of these issues.”
Of course, not every LGBTQ organization in Utah is as gun-friendly as the Pink Pistols. While Fanaeian argues that “we can’t talk about empowering marginalized communities while simultaneously trying to disarm marginalized communities,” other longtime activists in the state are still clinging to their support for gun bans and more.
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, the Beehive State’s “premier LGBTQ civil rights organization,” said, “Many LGBTQ Utahns own guns, either for sport or self-defense. Many don’t.”
“As an organization we support the Second Amendment. We draw the line, however, at military grade weapons in the hands of civilians. We’re talking about weapons like the SIG MCX semi-automatic that was used to murder 49 LGBTQ people and wound 53 more at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. These deadly weapons of war belong in the hands of soldiers, not civilians,” Williams said.
Fanaeian, on the other hand, wants to see community-based solutions to stop gun violence, rather than what she calls “restrictive gun control.”
“As far as legislatively trying to do things such as ban assault weapons, or ultimately make it harder for regular everyday folks to access guns only so rich elitist people can access them … I’m completely against those initiatives.”
The Second Amendment isn’t just a right of the Right, any more than it’s a right limited to straight white guys in the suburbs or the country. It’s the right of the people to keep and bear arms that shall not be infringed, and I’m excited to see voices like Ermiya Fanaeian’s used to defend that right, rather than trying to take it away.