The political battle lines drawn over what happened a week ago in Orlando are already familiar – one side, mostly Democrats, is calling for gun control. The other, mostly Republicans, is saying more needs to be done on the terrorism front.
That’s how the arguments played out on the Sunday talk shows, too. But in the LGBT community, this was about hate and fear.
Jeff Sanford, the owner of Shiloh Gun Range in Houston, is discovering just how deep these concerns run. After a conversation with one of his friends, who happens to be gay, Sanford decided he’d offer free gun lessons to the LGBT community.
Sanford says his friend Ryan Thomas told him that coming out to the shooting range for the first time a few years ago was a big step for him.
“It was something that he felt like that we’re a place that he might not fit in real well,” he says. “And he came out and he got to know everybody and he’s been addicted ever since.”
After the Orlando massacre, Sanford says he called Thomas to offer his condolences but Thomas told him he couldn’t talk about it.
“I didn’t really understand that,” he says. “…But I came to realize it was because that was the only place that he could go to, it would be gay clubs, that everybody there was like him and… there was never any judgment there. This community as a whole felt like they lost the ability to have that one bastion of a place where they could go and be themselves.”
Sanford says the idea of free license to carry courses was a mutual idea with him and Thomas. Sanford, whose mom, dad and brother help run the range with him, says they wanted to offer it and imagined Thomas would be able to get a few dozen friends interested. A local news team aired a segment about the course on its nightly broadcast and Sanford says inquiries came pouring in.
“The phone started ringing about three minutes into (the broadcast) and they never stopped ringing,” he says.
All told, about 300 people have signed up for courses. Sanford says he’s spoken to almost all of the people interested and exchanged emails with many of them. But his email crashed and his voicemail was full up.
“The community responded resoundingly,” he says, “like I could not have imagined them responding.”
Post prepared by Hannah McBride.