Black Americans Are Buying Guns in Record Numbers
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the rise in Black gun ownership appears to be a direct response to the economic and racial strife America is facing.
By Nick Fouriezos
It was a sweaty summer day in northern Virginia, in a summer full of sweaty days throughout the country, and there were hourslong waits for booths inside Sharpshooters Range despite the pandemic. Down the line, shooters in face masks, protective goggles and headsets peppered targets with bullets. Despite the fact that gun owners overwhelmingly trend white, almost half the patrons at Sharpshooters Range were people of color — many of them new shooters accompanied by coaches, such as the middle-aged Black woman who marveled at the kick she felt as the pistol recoiled in her outstretched hands.
This scene is growing increasingly more common across the country, as many African Americans have joined the ranks of gun owners in recent months amid the police killings and heated protests that have enveloped the United States.
Black men and women bought 58 percent more guns in the first six months of 2020 than they did in the same period last year.
That’s according to a survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which shows the largest rise in this period for any demographic. “Bottom line is that there has never been a sustained surge in firearm sales quite like what we are in the midst of,” Jim Curcuruto, the foundation’s director of research and market development, reported in July, as a record 10.3 million firearm transactions were processed by retailers nationwide.
While the country was locked down during the pandemic, involvement in Black gun groups surged. The National African American Gun Association (NAAGA) saw its annual memberships growing by as much a thousand new members a day at its height in May, up to around 35,000 people, while its social media following had three times that amount.
Founded in 2015, the NAAGA accepts people of all political stripes and backgrounds. “Because of COVID, even people who were anti-gun were fearful of social breakdown and racial tensions,” says Philip Smith, the organization’s national president and founder. “A lot of us thought we were going into martial law at the time. We saw the brewing social unrest coming,” says Y.G. Nyghtstorm, a Georgia gun owner and conservative commentator.
As the George Floyd protests began, left-leaning Black militia groups like the Not Fucking Around Coalition (NFAC) started showing up strapped too. The first NFAC sighting was at a May protest in Brunswick, Georgia, following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. The group’s founder — an Atlanta-based rapper and DJ who calls himself “Grand Master Jay” Johnson — led a thousand-person march through Stone Mountain, Georgia, in early July, to protest the Confederate monument there. Most notably, the coalition showed up and outnumbered mostly armed White members of the far-right Three Percenters militia at a Breonna Taylor march in Louisville, Kentucky, in late July, during which shots were accidentally fired and three NFAC members were injured.
“We’re law-abiding gun owners,” Johnson said in an interview on Roland Martin: Unfiltered, adding that a resurgence in anti-Black racism and police shootings in the U.S. made NFAC members feel compelled to act. “Our policing models are broken, remote policing does not work and we feel there is a need for us to get back to community policing.” (We were unable to reach Johnson for a comment.)
But the surge in gun purchases may not bode well for the Black Americans who buy them. One study found that for each 10 percent jump in homeownership of guns, there is a 13 percent increase in domestic firearm homicide incidents. “These findings further suggest that gun ownership is associated with mortality and that the most likely victim is someone in the home,” said lead researcher Aaron Kivisto, a clinical psychologist at the University of Indianapolis.
Also, Black Americans who carry guns are often seen by police as threats rather than as exercising their Second Amendment rights — as in the case of Philando Castile, who calmly warned officers he was legally carrying and was shot to death anyway. Compare that with the way white Kenosha, Wisconsin, shooter Kyle Rittenhouse was initially ignored by officers and allowed to pass without being apprehended. despite carrying a rifle and trying to turn himself in,
But Smith argues it would be wrong to not carry because of fear. “The worst thing we can do as a people is to minimize our existence by acting like us having a gun is wrong,” Smith says. “We as a people do not need to cower down.”
While Nyghtstorm supports Black Americans owning guns to defend themselves, he does worry about the possibility of white and Black militias showing up at protests armed and ready for a fight. “These people are full of emotions and ammo, and that’s never a good combination, whether they are on the right or the left,” he says, adding that aggressive, far-right (and often mostly white) groups like the Boogaloo Boys “need to chill.” At a time when extremism is on the rise, that may be easier said than done.