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PROTECT OUR OWN: Why More Black People Are Looking To Gun Ownership For Safety In America

A rise in hate crimes and anti-Black vitriol sparked a 58 percent increase in Black people purchasing firearms in 2020--This spike seems to have continued.

Two days after a white man shot and killed 10 Black people in Buffalo last month, Michael Moody reversed his thinking about possessing a firearm. He had watched the aftermath of the carnage on the news, the anguish of the victims’ families, and decided he “needed a gun. Needed, not wanted,” he said.

After discussing it with his wife, Moody said he left his home in suburban Washington to buy a weapon. He quickly learned he wasn’t alone. He said he was “stunned” at the number of Black people standing in line at the gun shop in Maryland to make a similar purchase.

Through chatting with others while waiting, Moody said he learned “a lot of us have the same idea. It’s getting bad when someone specifically targets Black people to shoot. We have to be prepared to fight back. And you can’t survive bringing a knife to a gunfight.”

Moody’s sentiments represent one reason the sale of guns to Black Americans rose 58 percent in 2020 — the year George Floyd was murdered by a Minnesota police officer, sparking a nationwide social justice movement — according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms trade association. It was the highest bump in gun sales of any ethnic group that year.

Further, in the first quarter of 2021, another NSSF report revealed 90 percent of gun retailers reported a general increase of Black customers, including an 87 percent increase among Black women.

“And you wonder why?” said Moody, who works for the federal government. “You look at Buffalo and the feeling of ‘This could have been me’ is there. We could be the next target. And when it’s you, what are you going to do? Are you going to run and hide? Or are you going to be able to protect yourself? Protect your family? I didn’t want a gun; I’m not a gun person. But this world has made me get one. Getting one for my wife next.”

The foundation said 40 percent of the overall gun sales in 2020 were to first-time gun purchasers. Black gun owners, old and new, say the rise is a byproduct primarily of a heightened fear they could be targeted like those in Buffalo or at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, when nine Black church members were killed by a white supremacist.

To that point, anti-Black hate crimes rose nearly 40 percent in 2020, the latest year available, according to FBI statistics. There were 2,755 reported incidents targeting Black people in the U.S. that year, the most besieged racial group by a large margin.

Two weeks after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on the Capitol in Washington, Destiny Hawkins, a divorced mother of one who lives near Atlanta, waited in line to purchase her first gun, a Glock 43. “It wasn’t the gun I wanted because their selection was so low; people were buying guns like crazy,” she said.

“But seeing those people climb the walls and attack the Capitol — on top of all the other shootings of Black people — just confirmed why I stood in the cold and got my firearm. The bottom line is that we have to protect ourselves and our homes. But we purchase guns differently,” Hawkins said, stressing the sense that more Black people are buying guns for the sake of protection against racial attacks. “I drove a long way to take safety classes,” she added. “I went to the range.”

This increased interest in firearms delights Philip Smith, who started the National African American Gun Association in 2015. A human resources executive in Atlanta, Smith said he owns “about 30” weapons, including the lethal AR-15-style rifles used in the Buffalo mass shooting and the Uvalde elementary school massacre in Texas on May 24.

The increased number of Black gun ownership represents “an awakening,” Smith said. “It’s a value-add to their family household, as opposed to, let’s say, 10 years ago or six years ago. This is a movement in a certain direction, and I think it’s a good direction.”

His organization has 48,000 members nationwide, he said, and has gained more than 1,000 or more each month since 2020. It has nearly 107,000 followers on Facebook. Smith said the murder of Floyd, compounded by the myriad shootings of Black men and women by white police officers, vigilantes and the like, sparked the surge.

“There’s been a polarization racially and politically that’s driving that narrative for Black people purchasing guns for protection,” Smith said. “Folks are saying they don’t want to be out in public without a gun or they might end up like Ahmaud Arbery or Trayvon Martin or countless others who have been killed in the streets.

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