Why US liberals are now buying guns too

Gun ownership has traditionally been associated with the right wing in America but the election of Donald Trump has prompted some left-wingers to join gun clubs – and even start preparing for the collapse of society.

“I really didn’t expect to be thinking about purchasing a gun. It was something that my father did and I rolled my eyes at him.”

Clara, a 28-year-old nursing student, grew up in the Mid-West, where “the folks that had guns were seen as hicks” or were just “culturally different”, she says.

But since the election of Donald Trump in November she has started going to a gun range for the first time and is shopping around for a semi-automatic pistol.

“It’s been seeing the way that Trump’s election has mobilised a lot of the far right and given them hope,” she says, citing a rise in reports of hate crimes and neo-Nazi activity.

As a transgender woman, she does not fear for her personal safety in the Californian city where she now lives but she says she knows people in rural areas “who woke up and found a bunch of swastikas and words like ‘faggot’ and ‘trannie’ scrawled all over their building”.

She foresees a wide-ranging struggle between the Trump administration and the left over issues such as immigration and racial politics.

But won’t buying a gun just increase tensions?

“Things are already escalating and they will continue to do so and me not engaging or being prepared to defend my friends by force… isn’t going to stop people from being attacked or harassed,” Clara says.
Image copyright John White
Image caption Members of the Liberal Gun Club enjoy a day out at the range

Gun sales in America hit record levels in October amid fears a Hillary Clinton election victory would lead to increased controls.

Many expected the election of Donald Trump, whose candidacy was backed by the National Rifle Association, to bring an end to the panic buying. Shares in gun manufacturers dropped by as much as 18% following his victory.

But instead FBI background checks for gun transactions soared to a new record for a single day – 185,713 – during the Black Friday sales on 25 November, according to gun control news site The Trace.

Some of this has been put down to gun retailers selling off stock at reduced prices, but there have also been reports of more “non-traditional” buyers, such as African Americans and other minorities, turning up at gun shops and shooting ranges.

Lara Smith, national spokesperson for the Liberal Gun Club, says her organisation has seen a “huge” rise in enquiries since November’s election and a 10% increase in paid members.

Some of the new members are reluctant first-time gun owners, says Smith, concerned that isolated acts of aggression against minorities could escalate into something more violent and that a Trump administration will dismantle key constitutional rights, leading to a “more fascist rule than the US has ever had”.

The club, which has nine chapters and members in all 50 states, aims to provide a forum for people whose political beliefs do not fit the traditional right-wing gun enthusiast stereotype.

The club’s members have a keen sense of irony, joking in their discussion forums about drinking herbal tea and practising yoga “to get fired-up to hit the range”.

“In the more conservative gun world, there is definitely a feeling that liberals hate guns,” says Smith, who voted for Hillary Clinton and describes herself as a “moderate Democrat”.

“If you go into gun forums and discuss your politics, you are very clearly not welcome. Libtard [an abbreviation of ‘liberal retard’] is one of the nicer things they say. It can get pretty nasty very quickly.”
Gun ownership in America
Image copyright John White

No official figures are kept on US gun ownership. About 35% of American households have a firearm – down from just over half in 1978, according to recent polling
55% of Republican-supporters say they have a gun in the house, compared with 32% of Democrats, according to research by PRRI
Hillary Clinton campaigned for tougher background checks and a ban on those on terror watch lists gaining access to firearms
This was seen by the National Rifle Association, one of Donald Trump’s biggest campaign donors, as an attack on the Second Amendment of the US constitution which declares “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”

Gwendolyn Patton, of the Pink Pistols, a club for for gay, lesbian and transgender gun owners, says new members fear being “harassed by the gun nuts at the range”.

But she says they are mostly “welcomed with open arms by the shooting community”.

“There are people who have professed to carrying a gun now because Trump made them feel unsafe,” she says.

“I think their fears are groundless but I can’t make them not be afraid, so whatever they need to do to feel safer, I don’t have a problem with that as long as they do it responsibly.”
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Gun owners got behind Donald Trump’s election campaign

It is not just gun ownership that liberals are reassessing in the wake of Donald Trump’s election win. There appears to have been a surge in interest in survivalism too.

In America, stockpiling weapons and food, in preparation for social and economic collapse, has tended to be the preserve of right-wing libertarians and foes of “big government”. But the Liberal Prepper Facebook group – up to now a small band – reports a big increase in enquiries.

“A lot of people are worried that not only will [a Trump presidency] fail but that it will fail spectacularly to the point that we are going to end up on in one or more critical situations that we are just not prepared for,” says Jeff, 36, one of the group’s members.

The group is run by BlytheBonnie, a 70-year-old lifelong Democrat who turned against the party at the recent election because she “didn’t like the way they treated Bernie Sanders”.

She has a purpose-built, above-ground storm shelter, stocked with emergency supplies of food and water, with its own generator.
Image caption Inside a liberal prepper’s storm shelter

Like Jeff, she is concerned both about natural disasters, and a presidency she regards as the biggest threat to economic stability America has seen for decades.

“We are not preparing for a battle with the federal government but we are preparing for if we have local chaos. Like they have had with some of the police shootings.”

It’s possible that liberal preppers will be able to pick up some bargains as the Trump victory appears to have caused sales of emergency food and supplies to crash, according to the author of The Economic Collapse blog.

“Now that everyone is feeling so good about things, very few people still seem interested in prepping for hard times ahead,” he writes.

“In fact, it is like a nuclear bomb went off in the prepping community.”

Liberal preppers seem keen to underline the difference between them and their right-wing counterparts, who they tend to regard as paranoid, gun-obsessed conspiracy theorists.
Media captionDan Baum: “I am a Jewish, liberal Democrat and also a gun guy” (April 2013)

“We are not looking for end of the world Mad Max-type scenarios, we are not looking at a zombie apocalypse,” says the author of a left wing survivalist blog, who also reports a surge in interest since Trump’s victory.

He says it is “fairly easy to predict” an economic collapse under Trump but adds: “No matter what, the country is still going to be here in four years, there’s going to be another election.”

But some left wingers take a more pessimistic view.

“It just feels like we are living at the end of the world and everybody expects the apocalypse to come sooner rather than later,” says Clara, the nursing student.

“So learning how to shoot a gun doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Certainly more useful than learning how to make PowerPoint slides, or whatever.”