A body of evidence is emerging that African Americans in the Washington, D.C., area are increasingly becoming gun owners for reasons ranging from racially polarizing rhetoric to concerns about crime and public safety.

Kelly Latimer, a co-founder and co-owner of the Barnes 1st Step Firearm Training LLC based in Southeast, said she has seen a surge in interest in her academy’s offerings recently.

“We have had an increase in students at our school for several months,” Latimer said. “The majority of our new students are female and African American. In the pistol fundamentals course, 60 percent of our students are female and in the class on concealed carries, it is about 50 percent female, 50 percent male. Many of our students have told me about wanting to be prepared in case they have to defend themselves.”

Latimer’s observations are echoed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, trade association for the gun industry. It said 58 percent of the first-time buyers since January are Black. A June survey of gun shop owners found that 40 percent of those who purchased firearms are first-time buyers, 40 percent of them women.

And Blacks made up a major share of those firearm purchases, the largest uptick of any racial group.

Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, a research firm specializing in the economics of firearms, calculates national gun purchases based on the FBI background check system. It estimated 15 million guns have been sold this year so far, exceeding 2019’s total.

In addition, FBI statistics reveal the District had its largest jump in gun sales in August measured by the number of background checks performed on residents, nearly doubling the previous high of July’s 898, WTOP reported.

Latimer speculates the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the death of unarmed Blacks by police officers and the racially divisive rhetoric by political leaders has contributed to the interest in guns by Blacks.

“I recently spoke with a Black woman who was interested in taking classes at our school,” she said. “She was 60 years old and told me this was the first time she considered purchasing a gun. She reflects what many of our students are saying. They want to be safe and protect themselves during these troubled times. There’s a lot of tension in D.C. these days.”

However, Allan E. Lucas, the owner of Lucas Security Services in Northeast, said the threat of possible post-election political violence and police killings aren’t the reasons he hears on why more Blacks are purchasing guns.

“The number one reason Blacks are purchasing guns, from what I have been told, is the fear of high crime in the city,” according to Lucas, a former D.C. police officer, ex-Marine, corrections officer and deputy U.S. Marshal.

Lucas said few people have cited to him “Trump and his reactionaries” as the reason for obtaining weapons.

While Lucas stresses high crime as the primary reason for gun purchases by Blacks, Galen Muhammad, a resident of Prince George’s County, said Trump’s racial discourse and a recommendation from a friend fueled his desire to go through the gun purchasing process in Maryland.

In May, Muhammad helped found Onyx Sharp Shooters, based in Forestville and an affiliate of the National African American Gun Association. Despite experience as Maryland Army National Guard officer and a special police officer with a defunct security firm, he has never owned a firearm.

Muhammad said Onyx Sharp Shooters has 150 members, all recruited through word of mouth and social media. The group’s mission is built around responsible gun ownership, he said.

“We want to teach Blacks about gun ownership,” he said. “We also want to teach about gun safety. A gun is not a toy, but a tool. We want to make sure Blacks are well-educated about guns before they make a purchase.”

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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