More African-Americans appear to be taking an active interest in their right to bear arms since the election of President Donald Trump, gun club leaders and firearm sellers say.
A national African-American gun club has doubled its membership since Election Day, and gun sellers say they’ve noticed more black customers buying firearms.
At Stoddard’s Range and Guns in Atlanta, one thunderous clap after another reverberates through the room, mixing with laughter and the smell of gunpowder. A group of men are bonding over a hobby they love. Moments later, their weapons empty and a stream of hot shell casings on the floor around them, each man holds up his target showing clusters of bullet holes.
They are members of the National African American Gun Association, a group that has added 9,000 members since Election Day, said Philip Smith, the group’s national president. The group launched on Feb. 28, 2015, and added 4,285 members over the same time period the year before, between Nov. 2015 and Feb. 2016.
“I’d be lying to you if I said Donald Trump hasn’t affected our numbers,” Smith said. “They have jumped off the roof.”
NAAGA now has more than 18,000 members in 24 chapters across the country.
‘You know what, let me get a gun just in case’
In 2008, overall gun sales surged after President Obama’s election. Weapons dealers attributed the increased sales to fears that Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress would move to restrict gun ownership. In contrast, overall sales of guns and ammo dipped immediately following Trump’s election.
NAAGA leaders say that the recent increase in their membership is driven by different concerns. One of the group’s newest chapters formed in response to the election result, launching just weeks after Nov. 9, and now counting 66 members.
Dickson Amoah, the chapter’s president, said several members were alarmed by attacks on African-Americans at Trump’s campaign rallies and hateful rhetoric from Trump supporters on social media. That motivated them to organize the new chapter, he said.
Smith cited the recent rise in the number of hate groups in the United States as one factor in NAAGA’s growth. “I think the main thing that has really changed is that two years ago, fringe groups were just that: fringe groups,” he said. “But now those fringe groups are kind of like, ‘It’s cool to be racist,’ and they’ve taken that and we — our community sees that, and it scares us. You know what, let me get a gun just in case something happens, just to make sure.”
A more diverse clientele
Several gun store owners also said they have noticed a shift in their clientele.
Junior Joseph, the owner of a gun shop near a black community in Orlando, Florida, said for years most of his customers were white men. But since the election, he said he has been making more sales to black and Latino shoppers. Kevin Jones, a gun dealer in Ohio, said he had also seen more black customers coming in, particularly older women.
Not every gun store has seen this kind of trend. At one shop in Virginia, a clerk said they’ve seen more women shopping for guns, but hadn’t noticed an increase in African-American buyers.
Justin Clyde, the manager of Stoddard’s in Atlanta, said the perception of typical gun buyers continues to change. “Your normal response was probably gonna be, you know, 40-year-old plus white guy,” Clyde said. “It’s not the case at all. Here in Atlanta we have a large demographic of different people, and it’s a wonderful thing. Our store, we see huge groups of people that, you know, don’t fit that mold, don’t fit the normal, I guess, stereotype, and it’s a lot of fun. It makes it more fun, more dynamic, and it’s pretty cool.”
A fraught history
Rates of African-American gun ownership have typically been lower than those among whites. In 2013, 21% of black households said they had a gun, compared to 46% of non-Hispanic white households, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2014, 19% of black households reported owning a gun, compared to 41% of non-Hispanic white households.
While Smith’s group of NAAGA members was hanging out at Stoddard’s, about a dozen other African-Americans not affiliated with the group passed in and out, both men and women. A group of older patrons started talking about how buying and owning a gun wasn’t always an option for African-Americans.
When Martin Luther King Jr.’s home was firebombed in 1956, he applied for a concealed carry permit in the state of Alabama. Local police at that time had the right to determine who could and couldn’t get a license. King’s application was denied, despite the fact that his life was frequently threatened.
Being a legal gun owner while black can also be a dangerous proposition today, black gun owners say, pointing to the death of Philando Castile, a licensed gun owner who was shot by a Minnesota Police officer during a traffic stop last July. Castile’s girlfriend said he clearly told the officer he was legally carrying a gun before he was shot. The officer involved was charged with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.
Concerns about safety
But that doesn’t deter NAAGA’s growing membership. They say the Second Amendment should be for all Americans and it’s a freedom they plan to exercise and encourage.
NAAGA says nationwide, black women make up the largest share of the group’s new members. For new gun owners like Antoniette Singh, a retired disabled woman who has bought two firearms in the last five months, it’s about safety and security. She says that as a victim of assault she believes her guns give her a fighting chance against anyone who tries to attack her. The group has helped her learn how to handle her weapons properly.
Group meetings across the country focus on teaching new gun owners each state’s gun laws, and helping first-time gun owners feel comfortable with their weapons.
Michael Cargill, the owner of a gun shop in central Texas, said a group of 100 black women had recently called asking him to set up a class on gun safety and the proper way to shoot.
He attributed the recent wave of interest in owning a firearm to a few factors. “Because of the climate in the White House … people in the African-American community and other communities are concerned about their safety,” he said. “I’m seeing people who want to learn how to shoot and then have us help shop for the right gun.”
“It’s something that I haven’t seen in years past,” he said.