Posted on April 7, 2021

Black Americans Flock to Gun Stores and Clubs

Abene Clayton, The Guardian, April 5, 2021

Janice Matthews always knew she would be a gun owner someday. She was raised in Alabama where her family members rarely left their home unarmed. Still, after more than three decades in California she wasn’t in a rush to start shopping around at gun stores. Then the pandemic hit.

Matthews started hearing rumors of food shortages and noticed store shelves emptied by shoppers panic-buying everything from bullets to toilet paper. After her daughter moved out of their home, she was left with an empty nest and a lot of anxiety.

“I was thinking of what they predicted in the Bible and I thought I would have to protect the little bit that I had,” Matthews, 55, recalled.

So one day in the spring of last year, she waited six hours in line outside a northern California gun shop to become one of the millions of Americans who became first-time gun owners in 2020.

Americans bought a record number of firearms last year. An estimated 5 million people bought their first ever gun between March and August, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a trade organization, and that number continued to climb throughout the year. Black Americans saw the highest increase in new gun owners of any demographic, the NSSF found, with gun ownership in the group up by a staggering 58.2%.

Though Black Americans have a multitude of reasons for buying a gun – some new gun owners told the Guardian about stress related to the pandemic, others about the anxiety of seeing scores of armed white protesters rallying against lockdown orders or the election results – many had a common experience in the process of obtaining one. They were met with apathy, and in some cases disrespect, from white gun store owners, gun club members and at shooting ranges.

The cold shoulder they received has pushed scores to join Black gun clubs and seek training from Black experts. “June 2020 – when the riots were hitting different cities – my students increased,” said Rogers Anderson, who is the commander of the Black Gun Owners Association’s Oakland/Bay Area chapter and conducts training sessions at northern California shooting ranges. “Now 99.9% of my students are either single Black women or Black women with children who fear for their safety,” Anderson said.


Black gun ownership – sometimes referred to as the Black tradition of arms – has seen many iterations. After the American civil war, newly freed Black people formed militias to defend themselves against white supremacist violence. Into the mid-20th century, civil rights activists such as Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr were known to carry guns and groups like the Deacons for Defense in the south and Black Panthers wielded their firearms publicly as a part of their activism.

In recent months, Black gun owners with groups like the Not Fucking Around Coalition (NFAC) have marched with long guns slung across their chest and handguns visible in their holsters during protests over Covid-19 restrictions and demonstrations demanding justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Guns have continued to fly off store shelves amid the unrest following Donald Trump’s election defeat and the lingering pain around killings of Americans such as Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed while on a run through a Georgia neighborhood.

“In times of uncertainty people want to be able to have the means to defend themselves,” said Robert J Cottrol, a law professor at George Washington University. “People are worried that they’re not being protected and they’ll have to do it themselves.”

“Fear of crime and it being a hobby are not mutually exclusive. And the police are not always able to protect you,” he added.

Nathan Adams, a 46-year-old northern California business owner, said he supported California’s strict gun laws before the 2020 election. But the intense focus on entrenched racism in policing led him to conclude that, “some law enforcement and some extremist groups are one in the same.”

“People are tired of this stuff, me included. And if buying firearms is the route we have to go down to make sure that things don’t get shady over my tail light, then so be it,” Adams said after a session on the Richmond training ground.

“None of the traditional groups were all that appealing. They’re always defending the second amendment unless it comes down to a minority, then they’re crickets. I didn’t wanna give my membership dollars to them,” he continued.

“I would rather get the education from someone who looks like me instead of someone who says ‘lemme help this boy,’ echoed Delon Atkins, who attends trainings alongside Adams and said he had begun dabbling in firearms at the beginning of the pandemic. {snip}


Tired of the NRA’s failure to reach out to Black communities and vilification of slain Black gun owners, Black gun owners formed their own affinity groups like BGOA and the National African American Gun Association (Naaga) to encourage other Black Americans to embrace their right to own firearms and educate them on gun safety. Their membership only grew amid killings like the one of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana.

“The value of these groups is learning with people who know your struggle and understand what’s happening and has been happening with this country,” said Anubis Heru, the owner of the 1770 Armory and Gun Club Denver, Colorado’s first Black-owned firearm store and simulator range. {snip}