CONROE, Texas—On a recent Saturday, a 35-year-old Puerto Rican woman who grew up in Spanish Harlem, came out of the shadows. In front of two dozen strangers mopping up the last of their buffet lunch, Miriam O’Quinn revealed two details about herself that she rarely shares, at least not in the same sentence. She voted for Bernie Sanders. And she really likes to shoot guns.
The reason she had come here, to the banquet room of McKenzie’s Barbecue, was that the other two dozen people in the room were more or less just like her—otherwise liberal Democrats who happen to feel just as passionately about the Second Amendment as they do about, say, universal health care. They are members of the Liberal Gun Club, perhaps the oddest crossbreed in American politics. (“The Jews for Jesus of politics,” one LGC member joked to me.) All of them had endured some version of the story that O’Quinn told about what had driven her to search the Internet for people who could understand the isolation she felt.
Three years earlier, after O’Quinn moved to Houston, she decided she wanted to get a concealed weapon permit. She signed up for a class that was taught in a garage in the Houston exurbs. When they arrived, she found a car parked outside with a bumper sticker that read, “Work: It’s the WHITE thing to do.” Inside, the instructor, a white woman in her late 40s, told the class she worried her church was an easy target for “Muslims” to attack because it was located near an expressway. The instructor later explained that concealed carry permits did not allow you to bring a gun to a polling place, joking that it was “too bad you can’t shoot Democrats on their way to vote.”
A lifelong liberal who had voted twice for Obama, O’Quinn absorbed the insults in silence. Despite her love of shooting—she owns a 12-gauge shotgun that she likes to take out for skeet shooting—she was wary of going to a gun range because she didn’t want to run into anyone like her instructor, people who would use the image of President Obama for target practice. Three weeks ago, she found the Liberal Gun Club on an Internet search, and realized it would be holding its annual meeting an hour from her house. “I was so uncomfortable,” she said to the group. “I’m so happy to be here.” The room gave her a round of applause.