Can Gays Against Guns Break the American Gun Industrial Complex?

Yesterday's die-in, held in New York outside investment firm BlackRock, Inc., proved that radical queer activism is still kicking.

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17 August 2016, 4:00am

Members of Gays Against Guns stage a die-in at the offices of BlackRock, Inc. in New York City. Photo by John Grauwiler

The true motives behind the Pulse nightclub tragedy this June likely died with the shooter. It's human nature to seek causality in the face of senseless violence, but speculative reasons that he chose a popular gay nightclub on a Latin dance night to murder 49 people—that he was a closeted gay man, that he had been spurned by a former lover—remain in question. There's evidence that the shooter may have been self-radicalized and wanted America to stop bombing Iraq and Syria, but facts beyond that remain hazy.

One remains: Had the shooter been unable to purchase the assault weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition he used, the massacre may never have happened. And that's all that Gays Against Guns (GAG), a nationwide activist movement founded within days of the tragedy, needed to know to set its past two months of activism into motion. The New York chapter of the nascent but now nationwide movement has staged a half-dozen protests, including yesterday's die-in at BlackRock, Inc., an investment firm with holdings in several gun manufacturers.

Journalist Tim Murphy, GAG's media coordinator, told VICE the organization takes inspiration from Larry Kramer's ACT UP, the "rude, rash, and paranoid" activist group that pioneered some of the most visible messaging and events to emerge from the gay-liberation movement in the 1980s and 90s. Yesterday afternoon, after the group decamped from its Blackrock event, he spoke to the group's goals, next steps, and the nature of protest in 2016.

Note: Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

VICE: Why BlackRock?
Tim Murphy: It's the first of a series of protests going deeper into what we call the gun business's chain of death. The NRA and congresspeople get a lot of attention from anti-gun groups, but gun manufacturers—and the companies that invest in them—don't.

What's venal about investors like BlackRock is that they've said in annual reports that gun manufacturing is a growing market. After every mass shooting, the NRA stokes a run on gun sales, these companies buy more stock—it's a disgusting, amoral cycle. The NRA gets paid to be the industry's public whipping boy, but you have to chase it all the way back. That's why we took it to BlackRock. It's a bland corporate entity that prides itself on its A+ rating from the Human Rights Campaign and donates to candidates like Hillary Clinton. They have this gloss of progressivism, and we showed up today to say you're not a friend of the LGBTQ community or progressive if you're profiting off death stocks.

What progress has GAG seen since it was founded two months ago?
We've established full chapters in Jersey, DC, LA, Massachusetts, and we have baby chapters in Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas, and Omaha. We've also formed partnerships with preexisting gun-violence-prevention groups like the Brady Campaign, Everytown, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, and Ceasefire USA, wonderful people who have worked really hard through devastating losses, such as when no new legislation could get passed after Sandy Hook.

Gun violence is the calculated end product of a whole chain of money and power, which thrives on these tragedies and need them to happen to make money.

Tell us about today's protest.
We feel as if [people at BlackRock] should be a fraction as miserable as that of the victims. We want to haunt them the way survivors and victims are haunted. That's why we have our signature element, what we call "the human beings." Today we had 12, representing those shot to death in Aurora by a Smith and Wesson gun, stock which BlackRock holds.

In white veils, our walkers silently held posters with the photos and names of the Aurora victims, alongside two dozen of us. We chanted in the BlackRock atrium, went up to employees smoking outside, and said: "If you work for BlackRock, shame on you, go tell your CEO to drop these stocks right now." You have blood on your hands. We had a die-in—outside, on the sidewalk, we chalked the outlines of those bodies and threw popcorn and fake blood, because that's what that theater looked like after the massacre.

What is GAG planning to do to up the ante on what radical-queer protest looks like in 2016, and on the legacy of ACT UP specifically?
Nothing still has the impact of a live protest. There's something about bodies in a space that holds an impact no amount of tweeting or petitions can achieve. However, you can harness that old-fashioned bodies-on-the-line element with the amplification of social media. I mean, these days, if you do a protest and it doesn't go viral, it's like a tree falling in the woods and no one hears it. We had an amazing age span today, from 82-year-olds to cool queer kids from Brooklyn. We have this amazing synergy of folks who remember how to do a live protest or die-in and younger queers who know how to amplify it.

After every mass shooting, you see vigils, people carrying candles and saying "gun violence is bad," as if you can shout that into the ether and that good energy will neutralize gun violence. Gun violence is the calculated end product of a whole chain of money and power, which thrives on these tragedies and needs them to happen to make money. We're trying to connect the dots on this chain of death to make clear that it doesn't stop with the NRA—it stops with consumers and individuals who say, I want your investment portfolio to divest from these companies. And I get that doesn't happen overnight. We're trying to draw back the veil in an explicit and theatrical way.

I think that in the world of gun violence prevention, we're doing something unprecedented. There has never been a directed, in your face, in the streets, dying in, falling to the ground group in the movement before. It's been very polite and sedate. Already, other activists have been like, "Yes, thank you gays, it's about time." And we have mom activists who have been doing this say, "You guys are right, the politeness hasn't worked."

What's next?
In a general sense, you will see more corporate targeting—campaigns urging people to ally or dissociate with certain corporate entities and companies. You'll see congressional action, targeting lackeys of the NRA facing reelection in vulnerable districts.

There are other coalitions of mostly queer people we're working in tandem with—for example, on August 27, we'll be in DC, in coalition with the National Action Network and the American Federation of Teachers. They'll be there targeting the NRA, so we'll be part of that, but we'll also be doing our own action in the city and DC that weekend.

Follow Tyler Trykowski on Twitter.