PHOENIX (KSAZ) - With every shot, The Valley of the Sun Pink Pistols organization is shooting down stereotypes. Interest in the group has spiked and it is on pace to become the largest shooting club of its kind in the Unites States.
Leaders of the Phoenix chapter believe the June attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando has inspired more members of the LGBT community to learn how to shoot guns.
"I probably shot my first gun when I was 5 or 6 years old," said Lonnie Cason, the chapter's president who joined back in 2011. "I just Googled gays with guns and found the Valley of the Sun Pink Pistols. I was thrilled that there was an LGBT group that was a shooting group."
The group attracts seasoned gun enthusiasts and also beginners looking for a comfortable, judgment free, environment to learn how to handle firearms.
"I was amazed that there were other gay people that liked shooting," said Markia Baker, a longtime member as she held one of her favorite guns. "We try to take the fear of guns away from the people."
Cason found that membership spiked after the murders of nearly 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, at the hands of a lone gunman. The shooting stunned the world and the gay community. Many of the group's new members are eager to learn.
"They want to learn about guns for protection," said Cason detailing the motivation of some of the newest members. "Our numbers have increased by about 35 percent."
Pink Pistols started back in the early 2000s as a "call to arms" for the gay community to combat hate crimes.
Many members have very little experience with guns but find the help and guidance they need.
"I was that person three years ago," said Steve Wienceck, who joined when he first moved to the valley. "By joining the Pink Pistols, I felt comfortable being an LGBT member. I didn't feel like I was going to be ridiculed. They were able to take me under their wing and gave me some pointers."
Wienceck is now one of the group's leaders and shoots regularly. He also admits there is a social component to the group.
"It allowed me to actually go out, socialize and meet people," he said.
Through Pink Pistols, Wienceck met chapter president Lonnie Cason. The two got married in April.