Credit: Liz Garrigan

It’s not lost on longtime D.C. grassroots organizer Phil Attey the paradox of his Gays Against Guns group “exposing” an organization whose public persona seems all folksy and pure but that represents thousands of firearm manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

“It seems kind of ironic that a bunch of gay people are here to out a gun lobby group,” Attey says Tuesday evening at a protest outside the Woodley Park-Zoo-Adams Morgan Metro stop. The demonstration by the fledgling organization—whose flagship group was founded in New York after Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shootings in June—took place just beyond the Marriott, where the National Shooting Sports Foundation is holding its annual import/export conference.

The Atlantic once characterized the NSSF as “the gun lobby group you don’t hear about,” and it’s indisputable that the national trade organization flies beneath the radar of even the most politically fluent citizens. While its logo looks like something out of an L.L. Bean catalog—what with its pine trees, deer, and hat-wearing hunters—the NSSF’s members are gunmakers, retailers and distributors, and it’s now spending just as much as the infinitely more notorious NRA in direct lobbying expenditures. (Both organizations have spent $1.6 million on direct lobbying this year, according to OpenSecrets.)

“They’ve flown under the radar because they’re largely closeted,” Attey says, noting that the organization exists under the guise of a bunch of “duck and deer hunters who are concerned about hunting safety.”

But it hasn’t contributed $142,500 to federal candidates (only $4,500 of that to Democrats) in the 2016 cycle to keep the camouflage brigade safe in their deer stands. Its gun control positions parallel the NRA’s—against an assault weapons ban, closing background check loopholes, etc. Because it represents manufacturers.

“The people on Capitol Hill know exactly who they are,” Attey says.

And so does James Manning, a D.C. transplant who was demonstrating with about 20 other like-minded “Gays Against Guns” during Tuesday rush hour, chanting “Gun lobby, gun lobby, it’s so whack. Whatcha gonna do? Act up, fight back.”

“I came out after Matthew Shepard was murdered,” Manning says of the 21-year-old university student who was brutally killed in 1998. “In light of the Pulse shootings, the LGBT community has an opportunity to make a real difference. Make no mistake about it, the deaths of the 49 in Orlando will not be in vain.”