Who is Gayle Trotter?
Until last week, most people in America probably couldn’t answer that question.
Then the Washington, D.C., lawyer stole the show at last week’s Senate gun hearings, stunning liberals by asserting that gun control is, in essence, sexist. Calling guns “the great equalizer,” Trotter said women need firearms to protect themselves against male attackers. “An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon,” Trotter said. “And the peace of mind she has…knowing she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she’s fighting hardened violent criminals.”
Before long, she was being hailed as a hero by some—conservative blogger Michelle Malkin tweeted, “Stand tall, Gayle Trotter. We appreciate your strong 2nd. amendment voice”—and as a nut job by others. Trotter “is now officially the most insane gun advocate in America,” wrote blogger Michael Edward Kelly. The New York Times called her testimony “dangerous.”
Trotter herself seems surprised by all the attention. “I would not call myself a political activist,” she tells The Daily Beast. “I’m just very interested in our liberties under the Constitution.”
The 41-year-old is a mother of six and a partner in the law firm she and her father built. She has written for a few blogs, including the now defunct Christian-themed Evangel. She’s a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, a nonprofit research group whose mission is to “expand the conservative coalition.” The IWF has been criticized for taking positions that go against women’s interests, with The New York Times calling it a “right-wing public policy group that provides pseudofeminist support for extreme positions that are in fact dangerous for women.”
Calls and emails to the IWF’s executive director were not returned, but the group’s communications director told The Daily Beast, vaguely, in an email, that “IWF is deeply concerned about the issue of violence and encourages a robust discussion about ways to encourage a healthier, more peaceful society”—declining to comment on Trotter or her testimony directly. But it’s the way she’s framed the gun debate as a women’s issue that’s brought Trotter the greatest notoriety in recent days. And it’s lumped her in with an increasingly vocal contingent of pro-gun women in the debate. That group includes Marion Hammer and Sandra Froman, both past presidents of the National Rifle Association. According to the NRA, participation in the group’s Women on Target instructional shooting program increased by 26 percent between 2011 and 2012.
Yet Trotter insists she’s no gun advocate. “The Second Amendment is just part of a tapestry of liberties I’m interested in,” she said, pointing to life experience and logic as the basis for her controversial views—though she said she’s never personally experienced gun violence or knows anyone who has.
Trotter was happy to talk, but very hesitant to divulge any personal details, almost appearing to be as much caught off guard by her newfound fame as the rest of the country. She opened up slightly more over the course of two interviews, but still declined to discuss her family.
She also defended her testimony further in an email, writing, “I am an unapologetically liberty-loving, tyranny-hating, red-blooded, patriotic American woman, a lawyer who is proud to say that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the founding charters of freedom and that government of the people, for the people and by the people is here to stay.”
She said women are “especially important potential beneficiaries of the Second Amendment.”
“I also speak as a lawyer. And like other parts of the Constitution, the Second Amendment—note, it is second, meaning in the hierarchy of things it was one of the first things the Founders thought of—exists for a reason, even if some of today’s partisans for ideological and other reasons wish it didn’t.”
For all her critics, Trotter appears to be fostering a fan base. She noted that her lists of Twitter followers and Facebook friends have grown exponentially since the hearing and that she’s been especially pleased to get messages from people she hasn’t heard from in years. “Hearing from people, especially, who diametrically disagree with me on the issue but commend me for being courageous, has been extremely gratifying,” she said.
Chris Schroeder has known Trotter on a personal level for over a decade. (Now an entrepreneur who’s working on a book about the technology industry in the Middle East, he was formerly the CEO and publisher of Newsweek.com.) He said that, while he doesn’t always agree with her views, “she is the perfect voice for our time.” He praises Trotter for approaching debates thoughtfully, notes that he’s never not learned something from a conversation with her, and condemns the media—on both sides of the political spectrum—for minimizing her down to soundbites. “They took pieces of her testimony and used them to drive home a polemic point,” Schroeder tells The Daily Beast, referring to the coverage of Trotter following her testimony. “The right took pieces that made her look like she was stormed for battle. The left took pieces that made her seem gun-crazy. She’s been turned into a caricature when she’s an incredibly thoughtful person.”
Schroeder says that unlike many politicians and talking heads who yell their views at each other without listening to what the other has to say, Trotter comes to every conversation armed with an argument but ready and willing to hear the other side. Trotter herself said she was proud of the CNN Town Hall she participated in the day after the Senate hearing, in which she spoke opposite of—and later shook hands with—Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. She calls Gabby Giffords a hero, saying she was honored just to be in the same room with her at the Senate.
“Just because it’s called the ‘Violence Against Women Act’ doesn’t mean that it prevents violence against women,” Trotter said of the legislation that’s up for reauthorization, which she has argued encourages immigration fraud and false allegations of abuse. “I don’t think there is one solution to protect women from violence. Looking at one particular cause of violence is not going to solve anything; we need to address the many causes.”
She has argued that guns level the playing field for women, who are, in most cases, smaller and physically weaker than men, and she cites a statistic that more than 90 percent of violent crimes occur without a firearm. But, as The New York Times pointed out, a 1990 study by an Emory University research team found that for every self-defense use of a gun at home there were 11 suicides (attempted or successful), 7 criminal assaults, and 4 accidental shootings.
In November, Trotter was elected to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D—a nonpartisan council for her Washington, D.C., neighborhood. Tom Smith, who’s entering his seventh year on the same commission, says he was not only blown away to find out that his new colleague had been invited to speak before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but even more so to hear what she had to say—and that her views were so strong and polarizing. “I think my jaw dropped.”
“We haven’t been around each other 24/7, but we have been in situations where we could have discussed these issues and you usually get to know where someone stands,” he says. Smith, who runs a communications and marketing firm as his day job, says he is personally committed to women’s issues, in particular domestic violence, having spent a good amount of time volunteering for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008, and finds Trotter’s views troubling.
“I worry that her arguments really trivialize the real challenges that so many women face in our country, where the risk for potential violence comes not from a group of marauders in a Clockwork Orange–type society invading their home, but from people living in their home,” Smith said. While their advisory commission typically deals with things like zoning regulation, and political views are mostly considered personal and irrelevant to the job, Smith is concerned about a current movement among commissioners to sign a resolution on gun issues and to call on D.C.’s congressional delegate to actively move forward on President Obama’s new gun-control agenda. Trotter was elected vice chair of their commission division, and though Smith says “it’s a meaningless position,” he also isn’t sure he’d vote for her again, knowing what he does now.
“The argument she is making is so outrageous to me, especially for someone living in an urban environment, that I think it hurts her credibility,” he says. “I’m not sure that I would want someone who thinks so far out of the mainstream to represent the ANC before various governmental bodies.”
Trotter is hardly concerned about critics. She believes her written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee speaks for itself and dismisses arguments that her words ignore facts as simply “missing the point.” She is more concerned about her position being misunderstood than her character, stating, “I’m very confident in knowing who I am, so I hope people give me the benefit of good faith. But if they don’t, I know that I’m acting in good faith.”