As much as America loves her guns, she has never liked the idea of seeing them in black hands.
Before the Revolutionary War, colonial Virginia passed a law barring black people from owning firearms — an exercise in gun control as racial control. In 1857, in his notorious Dred Scott decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney summoned the specter of black people freely enjoying the right to “keep and carry arms wherever they went.” Surely, he argued, the founders were not “so forgetful or regardless of their own safety” to permit such a thing. When black people armed themselves against white supremacist attacks following the Civil War, Southern state governments passed “black codes” barring them from owning guns. After the Black Panthers open carried to signal to California police officers that they would defend themselves against racial attacks in the late ’60s, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signed a state ban on open carry into law.
In 2016, legal gun owner Philando Castile was shot after informing a Minnesota police officer that he was armed. Two years prior, Tamir Rice was killed by Cleveland police while holding a toy gun. John Crawford suffered the same fate in a Beavercreek, Ohio, Walmart.
So what does black gun ownership mean in a country so determined to keep its black populace unarmed? Since the 2016 election, interest in firearms has supposedly ticked upward in the black community. Gun shops and clubs link the interest to a desire for self-protection against the white supremacists emboldened by President Donald Trump’s election.
HuffPost spoke to 11 black gun owners about their reasons for owning a firearm. Trump was a non-factor. Instead, they talked about wanting to protect themselves out of fear that no one else would. They talked about their anxieties during interactions with the police and their complex views on gun regulation. Where gun advocates often adduce the imaginary heroics of a hypothetical active-shooter scenario to their arguments, the black gun owners we talked to referred to specific incidents, specific provocations — as if redlined, too, out of the fantasyland of American gun culture. And most of them returned to a sentiment as old as the nation itself: that owning firearms is a rebellion against a system bent on keeping them out of the hands of black folks.
The interviews have been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
“I can’t view myself as just a gun owner. I have to view myself as a black gun owner.”
RJ Young, 30, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Young, a Ph.D. student at Oklahoma State, is writing a book called Let It Bang about his experiences as a black gun owner. He owns a Glock 17 9 mm and a Glock 26, which is his concealed carry weapon.
The first gun I ever touched was placed in my hand by my ex-father-in-law as a gesture of goodwill and good faith. He’s an old white man, and I was, at the time, dating his daughter. When he handed me this thing ― which I would come to find out was a Taurus judge, or a revolver you can cross-load with shotgun shells ― I was very scared to touch and hold it. It looked enormous, kind of like a Flaming Scimitar.
He was smiling about it. I thought that this was really weird at the time, like a scary “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” And I found out later from my girlfriend, who’d eventually become my wife, that this was him saying: “Hi, I’m Charles. I’m a nice guy.”
He had guns around the house, and it wasn’t a big deal. There was another shotgun leaned up against the door. I asked him about the gun in his little fanny pack he carried around, and he went on for about an hour about this pistol. And I figured that was my in. So over a few years I got to know him through guns, and I got pretty good with them. I got a concealed carry license, and I ended up trying to figure out what it meant for me to have a gun as a black man. I slowly learned that we weren’t always allowed to have firearms. They were kept from us for a number of different reasons, but not the least of which is white folks feared violence from black people ― in particular black men. And I had this question in my head about whether or not I was safer if I had a gun knowing what had happened to Trayvon Martin and Walter Scott.
In the course of becoming an expert with a pistol, so much so the NRA certified me as a pistol instructor, I’ve come to find out that I’m not safer. In fact, I’m probably more likely to have harm done to me if I have a firearm on me because a cop stopping me is not the same as a cop stopping a white person. And I have a duty to inform any officer who stops me that I am carrying and that I have a permit for it. But how they react to that, I can’t say. And that scares me. So I would rather not have a firearm on me and give someone a reason, even in their minds, to shoot.
I believe in the right to carry a gun, so I own them, and they stay locked up. The ammunition stays in one room, and the firearm stays in the other. I go shoot from time to time to keep my skills and to keep my credentials, but I don’t carry one in public. For them to be for protection, they would have to be loaded. Even if I wanted to go get them from a closet, I don’t keep them loaded. I keep the slide lock open and a key lock through them. They’re paperweights in my house. If somebody broke into my place, either I’m going to let them do what they need to do and leave or I’m going to try to handle it with my hands.
But the chances of someone breaking into my house are small. And if they broke in there, I want to believe that they believe they need something from me that would make them somehow feel whole or make them somehow get to a better place.
But if they shoot me or I shoot them, then nothing gets resolved. I’m just a cowboy who shot an outlaw. If that person is subdued or if I knock that person unconscious with one of the candle holders I keep around, and then that person is handcuffed and we go through this system of justice that we put into place; I feel much better about that. I don’t believe breaking into my house means that you need to die.
If I looked like Thor, I’d probably feel better about carrying a gun because the stigma is — I mean, I’m not just a black man. I’m a fit black man with, you know, 15 tattoos, sponge-brush hair and beard, and Malcolm X glasses, and I wear Jordans all the time.
If I could walk around Oklahoma and not count how many black folks were in the room, I’d probably feel better about firearms as a black man. I’d probably feel safer walking around with one. But the fact is, most people have a narrow view of who I am. I don’t get to wave my credentials in front of me and say, “Hey, master’s degree! Hey, Ph.D. student!” People have to take me as what they see, and they will immediately form an opinion about me. And most people who are white will have a bad opinion of me. That’s how I think this fits into my blackness. I can’t view myself as just a gun owner. I have to view myself as a black gun owner.
“When you live in certain environments, you’re preconditioned to paranoia.”
Courtney Cable, 39, Detroit, Michigan
Cable works as a insurance sales agent. She owns a Smith & Wesson 9 mm.
I’ve lived in the inner city for years, and I’ve been a gun owner for over five years now. I don’t see anything wrong with it, to be honest. I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Sometimes I think we have post-traumatic stress. But we don’t know about these conditions that we live in. We just think this is the norm, and the norm is, you have to protect yourself before anyone else tries to harm you or rob you. You have that preconceived notion. You may not see it, but you’re living there. You know what goes on. You just have to protect yourself, pretty much, because everyone else probably has a gun.
My father was a gun collector, so he had Smith & Wessons. I was about 7 years old, and I had a stepfather who always had a gun in the home. And we knew not to touch it growing up. I got a little bit older, and my older brother had guns for protection because he was living not such a good life. Eventually, he ended up getting murdered in an act of gun violence. He was shot over 17 times.
If I’m going out any day or at night, I always carry it. If I’m coming in my house, I always have it out ready to walk into my home. You know, it’s just day to day.
I feel as though I’m more vulnerable than others. I’m an easy target. I feel like a lot of things do happen to females. I live alone so it’s just ― yeah, I’m an easy target, really. People watch you come and go, you know what I mean? And even though I’m 5’11”, that doesn’t mean anything. If people wanna target you, they’re going to watch your activities, who’s coming in and out of your home. Anybody could follow you. When you live in certain environments, you’re preconditioned to paranoia. It’s behaviors you don’t even know really exist. Even if I’m in a good neighborhood, I still have some of the same worries, though I’m probably not as alert as I am in other areas. For the most part, I’m watching my surroundings all the time.
I do feel safer with a firearm even though I’m still nervous, I’m scared, I’m afraid. When I am protected, and my gun is unlocked and loaded, I feel as though I have a chance. It’s either gonna be me or you ― and I can’t be afraid of whatever happens at that point.
Even though I’m a gun holder and I’m licensed to carry, being stopped by the police still worries me. It’s gotten to the point where I kind of don’t want to carry because it makes me more uneasy to drive while having my gun in my vehicle. For a while, I didn’t even carry it while driving ― whether I was out at a nightclub or whether I had a date. I didn’t even bother. I’d just take the chance because I was that afraid of the police.
“I’m a guy who likes to do things by the book, and I want to be able to protect myself against people who don’t.”
Kendall Marr, 29, Topeka, Kansas
Marr works as a government spokesperson. He owns a SCCY 9 mm pistol and an AR-15 that he built himself.
I grew up in Texas. Guns are a part of life down there ― whether it be hunting or just going to the shooting range. It’s an everyday thing. I have guns because I enjoy shooting, and I also enjoy hunting. I’ve got family in Texas with a ranch, so I’m used to going out there and doing quite a bit of hunting.
My earliest experience with guns was growing up as a kid on a military base. You’d see people marching around the base with their M-16s, with the little orange or red plastic card in the tips. Both of my parents are in the military, so I saw weapons at home as well. My mom had a pink pistol as her side arm. Growing up with friends who wanted to hunt, we’d go out every now and then and do some shooting at the range or in the woods.
I was around 16 when I first shot a gun. I was at my buddy’s house and we’d gone out to his family’s ranch. They had shooting traps set up at 100 yards, 200 yards, 300 yards, and we’d put out pumpkins and watermelons and shoot them. This is how I found out that I like to shoot.
There are people who don’t have the right mindset to have handguns, people who aren’t responsible with guns. Those people shouldn’t have them. But, yes, I feel safer with a firearm. And changing the laws of what firearms you can carry isn’t going to change the mind of someone who wants to do something illegal. I’m a guy who likes to do things by the book, and I want to be able to protect myself against people who don’t.
I open carry but I don’t do it often. Being pulled over by the police is always a sticky situation in general. So when you’ve got a weapon with you, you’ve got to be prepared and extremely careful. You’re certainly more nervous. I haven’t been pulled over while I was carrying, but if I was, I would be extremely attentive. I’d have my hands on the wheel. I’d tell the officer I am carrying.
“Honestly, no, I know I’m not any safer.”
Toria C. Boldware, 39, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Boldware, a program assistant, owns a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson M&P Shield.
My grandfather was my first experience with guns. I am originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, and I grew up seeing him with rifles. They were just a part of life. They weren’t anything abnormal to me. I remember being in the country ― you can’t do this in the city limits ― and on New Year’s Eve, he would go out at midnight and shoot the gun off. And that was the highlight of New Year’s for me, seeing him go out and shoot his gun. I was in elementary school, and it was so cool. It stuck with me so much. And I never got that misconstrued. I didn’t think that guns were “so cool,” but this one act was just neat for me. It’s a regional, Southern, old way of life — I mean, I hope people still don’t shoot into the air on New Year’s. Looking back on it, that was dumb.
I purchased my first firearm in North Carolina, around 2005. I was about 26 or 27. It was a small .25 handgun that could fit in my purse. That .25 ended up being stolen, and I didn’t get another one for a while after that. But I would still go to the range every Friday. Friday was like date night at the range. The initial plan was for me to have a concealed carry permit, so I wanted something that was small that I could stick in my purse or keep in my glove compartment. Something that was easily accessible in the event that I needed it.
I moved shortly after the Philando Castile incident. Do I feel safer? It’s a mental thing. In my head I feel like I’m safer. But honestly, no, I know I’m not any safer. I keep my gun locked up. Getting to it is not going to be as easy as one would think. It’s not on my hip. This isn’t the movies. I don’t have it just ready to go. As far as driving around with it, I keep it locked up in my trunk. And the key is not usually with me.
I’m not as fearful as some of the recent shootings and incidents should make me feel. I’m not too terrified, and if I got pulled over, I wouldn’t even let them know I had a firearm since the gun would likely be in my trunk. I wouldn’t have access to it like I would if it were in the car beside me.
I am a Southern liberal. I’m not anti-gun, but I’m not regulation for all. I believe in responsible gun ownership. Because I’m a Southern liberal, I’m like, don’t take my gun. But don’t let people who don’t need to have guns have guns. I know the Second Amendment was created when we were shooting muskets and trying to keep redcoats from coming to take America. But things were different then. And I don’t cling to that as a crutch for having a gun. I know how I grew up. I know that I grew up with guns in my life. And I know that having them safely and the right people having them are OK.
“I’ve rarely seen a situation where a firearm made it better.”
Thomas Moore, 35, Houston, Texas
Moore is a control systems engineer. He owns an American Derringer M1 .357 Magnum, a Derringer .38 Special, a .40-caliber Springfield XD, a Taurus Judge revolver, a Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 pistol and a LWRC .223/.556 M6 rifle with EOTech sights.
When I first moved down to Houston, I was 23 years old, and I would go in the house and not lock my door. And a guy came in my house in the middle of the night while I was sleeping. He was standing in my doorway looking at me, and I had nothing around me to defend myself with. After that, I went a bought a shotgun.
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and I had a bunch of buddies who banged and lived that kind of life. So my first experience with guns was from being around them. I’d never touch them, but I’d be around while they were shooting at the ground and acting stupid. I’ve been mugged before. I had a guy steal my bike with a pistol.
I also had a gentleman offer me an Uzi machine gun when I was 16. Me and my buddies were outside, just hanging on the corner. And this one guy comes up and he’s like, “You wanna buy a gun?” I’m curious, so I say, “What you got?” He pulls out an Uzi ― in the box and everything ― and says, “I’ll give it to you for $125 bucks.” I’m 16. I don’t have $125 to spare.
I don’t feel safer with a gun. I used to, but over the years my thought process on guns has changed. If someone comes and pulls a gun on you, you’re not gonna pull your gun out. I have a concealed carry license, but they teach you to remove yourself from situations before you have to use your weapon. Things happen in the blink of an eye. I’ve been in situations where my gun probably could have helped me, but I never even thought about grabbing it. I’ve also been in situations where me having a gun could have escalated the situation.
One time I was out with a friend at an after-hours club, and we got into an argument. This gentleman decided he wanted to step in. So I’m telling him, “Look, I don’t know you, and you don’t know me.” I guess he took that the wrong way, and he starts reaching for his hip, saying, “You don’t know me either.” It’s clear he had a firearm. If I reach in my pocket for my firearm, that’s where it could have gone wrong. I just walked away and left it alone.
I’ve been pulled over a few times, and it’s never been a problem for me. When you get pulled over, you have to hand them both of your licenses, and you have to tell them that you have a firearm and where it’s at. But with all the recent shootings, I am a little bit more leery now about police.
The older I get, the more my stance changes on firearms. I do believe that people should have one in their homes. But I’ve rarely seen a situation where a firearm made it better.
Down here in Texas, we can open carry. I did it one time, but I felt like the biggest jackass on Earth. It makes people uncomfortable, and it really doesn’t serve a purpose to let someone know you have a gun. And with all the recent shootings, that could have gone bad for me, too ― like the guy who got killed in Walmart for having a toy rifle. Or Tamir Rice. It’s things like that that make me feel like the laws aren’t really equal. I’ve not personally had a problem, but that doesn’t mean that that problem doesn’t exist.
“I have a hammer for my home improvement. I have my gun for self-protection. They’re just tools to me.”
Carlton LeFlore, 30, Winter Garden, Florida
LeFlore works as an armed security guard, most recently for an abortion clinic. He owns a total of 18 guns, including four assault weapons. His assortment of tactical weapons includes a number of different brands ― mostly Glocks, Smith & Wessons and Springfields. LeFlore also has a variety of gun types, including semi-automatic and bolt-action rifles, semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, revolvers and several semi-automatic handguns.
I grew up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Miami: Liberty City. Violence and stuff like that was part of our everyday lives.
I always had a love affair with guns. I wanted to be a police officer. I always wanted to be a cop when playing cops and robbers with my friends. I bought water guns and toy guns. But I was always told that guns were bad. You shouldn’t have a gun, you shouldn’t own a gun ― especially for a young black male, you shouldn’t own a gun because you’ll be looked at as a thug, a criminal or a gangster. And, at first, I didn’t really want to own a gun. I thought that you should own a gun for self-protection, and at that time I didn’t feel like I was in any danger, even growing up in a bad neighborhood. As I got older, I started trying to understand the gun world. I’m a security officer now. I’ve had to incorporate guns into my work life.
In 2009, I bought my first gun. It was a shotgun. I started to see on the news that there were a number of home invasions happening around our city. That motivated me enough to get a gun at least for home protection. I started doing my research to see what was the best shotgun, the laws of the state, the laws of the city and what my Second Amendment rights were in regards to self-defense.
I’ve done armed security work, most recently for an abortion clinic. Every day, the clinic would get protesters ― religious fanatics or people who are just strictly against abortion ― so they needed security in order to protect the patients who visited the clinic. I was like the Secret Service for the doctor. He was the main priority. The clinic was located in a very conservative part of town. The clinic had gotten threats before ― people calling up threatening to blow up the clinic, to kill the doctors and stuff like that. I’ve even had protesters who were armed themselves show me their gun. They didn’t threaten me, but they were like, “I keep this for my protection.”
I always tell people who are thinking about getting into gun ownership that a gun is not an end-all, be-all. There’s a 50-50 chance that you can still die or perish at the hands of somebody else with a gun or a knife or a car or any other weapon. But it’s that 50 percent chance that I will take over a 100 percent chance of not being able to defend myself. I think what people don’t understand about guns is that if you practice responsible gun ownership, meaning that you follow the rules of gun safety ― keep your finger off the trigger, always treat your gun like it’s loaded, keep it pointed downrange at the shooting range and don’t point your gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy ― you won’t have accidents.
I feel a lot safer than I did when I wasn’t a gun owner. When I wasn’t a gun owner, I used to fear leaving my house at night. I was living in a bad neighborhood, and you never know what people might do to you. I would wear jewelry or some expensive shoes and fear that somebody might rob me. I don’t want to have to shoot anyone. I would never want to use my gun on someone. It’s really a precaution, a way of being prepared in case someone wants to harm me. We live in a world where it’s becoming less and less safe.
I conceal carry. I’ve been stopped by police on three separate occasions ― two last year and once in 2015. When I was pulled over, it was a similar to the Philando Castile situation. I was with my cousin, but my gun was in the glove compartment. I was sitting in the passenger seat, and they stopped us because the headlight was out. They asked her for her license and registration. Now her registration was in the glove compartment with the gun. I told the officer that there’s a gun in the car ― which you don’t have to do in Florida. I just volunteered the information because I wanted to keep everyone safe. I told him the gun was in the glove compartment. He told me not to reach for it, and I complied. He ran my name, he asked me about the gun and if I had a concealed weapons license. I told him yeah. In Florida, if you’re traveling with a gun, it either has to be in a holster on you or in a locked box or in a glove compartment. Once he ran our names and everything came back good, he just sent us on our way.
I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with police, regarding me having a gun. Now being black, I am conscious of how I could get one of those police officers we’ve been hearing about on the news who treat this as a hostile situation. But I try to take extra precaution with the police to make it out the situation alive. I’m not saying every police officer is good and is going to treat me like those three separate occasions where I was pulled over ― now and then you will get one that is a little overzealous and doesn’t know the law. If they can’t see your hands, and they know you got a gun, then they probably will be a little bit uncomfortable.
Guns should be used only as a self-defense tool. I have a hammer for my home improvement. I have my gun for self-protection. They’re just tools to me. I don’t give them any power other than that. And I feel like most people give the gun so much power, but the gun can’t pull the trigger itself.
“I don’t give a fuck who they meant the Second Amendment for. It’s mine now.”
Maj Toure, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Toure, who declined to give his age, is an activist and entrepreneur who founded Black Guns Matter. He never discusses what firearms he owns.
My introduction was from a well-balanced perspective. Guys in my neighborhood would get drunk and shoot their guns into the air on New Year’s Eve. Bullets come down though, number one. Number two, you’re wasting ammo. And number three, that’s just not responsible. I had uncles who were in Desert Storm, I got uncles who were in Vietnam. And seeing their understanding of firearms and how they carried themselves, I immediately had what to do and what not to do.
Firearms are just as normal as your cell phone. You don’t drop your cell phone in water. You have a lock on your phone. It’s very private. It’s yours. You know how to operate it. It’s like a car. When you first start driving, you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Then you start paying attention, being observant, looking around and being a responsible driver. Get drunk and shooting your gun is the same as getting drunk and driving. The difference is one is a right. A human right. One is a privilege.
I’m very careful in certain places now because you can’t carry. Black Guns Matter is doing trainings in different cities. And there are different rules for different states. So in some places I may not be able to lawfully carry, and I have to be mindful of that. That’s part of the responsibility.
We give classes free to all on firearm safety, on knowing the law, on how to apply state laws and for different permits, how to get a license to carry in your particular town, who are some trainers that you can work with. We work with trainers locally for whatever city, lawyers that know firearm laws, the Sanskrit, the basics, conflict resolution, de-escalation tactics. We give lessons on basics, so in essence it’s a class on the Second Amendment, on human rights, on civics, firearm safety and the cultural differences between communities.
And that’s to put people on the path to good citizenship. When you start paying attention to the Second Amendment, you start having more of a value for all of the other amendments. That creates good citizens: people who are politically active, who are going to their school board meetings, who are seeing what’s up with budgets, talking to their city councils, talking to their state representatives. We’re getting them involved politically on most angles.
America would not have even been created without firearms. Some people say it’s a contradiction for me as an African-American man to have a position: “When they wrote the Second Amendment, they didn’t mean it for you.” I don’t give a fuck who they meant it for. It’s mine now.
“I am not worried about my interactions with the police.”
David White, 29, Atlanta, Georgia
White, a sales executive, only owns one gun ― a Glock 9 mm ― but has plans to buy more firearms in the future.
I remember like it was yesterday. I was with my best friend ― who’s now been my best friend for 23 years. His stepdad was drunk. We had just come in from playing basketball and his gun was on the kitchen table. We were just staring at it. And my best friend said, “That’s my stepdad’s gun. Don’t touch it.”
His stepdad came around the corner, stumbling, and just started hollering at us. He wasn’t upset or angry, but just realizing that he left the gun on the table and that he probably shouldn’t have. But he took it as an opportunity to talk shit to us, tell us about his background in the military and how experienced he was with guns. He asked us if we wanted to know a little bit more about the gun. And we said hell yeah. We were, what, 13- or 14-year-old black males in Atlanta. So he took us through what this part was, what that part was and how to load and unload it. He took the bullets out and let us practice ourselves.
I’m a new gun owner. I purchased my first firearm in late September. I wasn’t really looking to purchase a gun until I became a homeowner. And I started feeling more strongly as the months went by that I needed to be able to protect my home if I had to.
Having a firearm in the house is definitely an adjustment. I mean, it’s a weird type of feeling and experience. I don’t have any kids yet, but I’m constantly thinking about ― when we do have kids or when minors are in our house visiting ― where am I keeping the gun, how is it locked and safely put away. I feel a little bit more comfortable now knowing that if I hear something outside at night or if I hear gunshots at not a too far distance, I’m not going to feel vulnerable or completely at the whim or mercy of someone potentially running inside my home and having their way with my family. It’s a little bit easier to sleep at night.
I intend to open carry, because it’s a right. It’s an American right. Even though I don’t feel like the right is applied equally, I know it’s an American right. And I feel like I should be able to do it. ― not only to protect myself but also to protect, potentially, the lives of others in the rare situation that I could find myself positioned to do so. It’s not even just thinking about me, because I know I’m a healthy and physically able person. If I’m ever in a position where I can help or protect someone else, I’d want to be able to do that and not feel helpless.
I am not worried about my interactions with the police ― and I know that’s probably startling to hear given some of the recent events in our country. I’ve had some rough experiences with the police, but I feel like I know how to disarm a situation verbally, and I’m willing to do whatever is necessary to ease that situation. And I’m very keen on reading people.
Now, you flip that and talk about me potentially running into an officer while I have a weapon on me? That’s something that I haven’t really wrapped my mind around yet ― and I probably do need to do some thinking and talking out with my wife as to how to approach that situation.
“I worry about the repercussions of the wrong approach.”
David Cain, 33, Tampa, Florida
Cain, who works in the tech industry, owns an AR-15, a shotgun, a Glock, a Smith & Wesson and a Taurus Judge.
Previously, I was an active-duty Marine. I deployed in 2006, and that is how I got into firearms in general. I grew up with no firearms, but being in the military, you get accustomed to being around them. And I shoot purely for fun. I go to the range and I shoot a few different weapons.
I don’t have any childhood experiences with guns. My parents were pretty anti-gun to the point where we couldn’t even have toy guns. So I didn’t have any gun of any type growing up. When my grandfather passed away, I think I was 19 and my mom gave me his shotgun. I don’t really know how that transition happened. I think she didn’t know what else to do with it, so she gave it to me.
I grew up in the country in Michigan. So I took my grandfather’s gun to a friend’s house, and we shot in the backyard. And it actually jammed the second time I shot it, and I never got it fixed. I don’t think it had been oiled for however long it had been sitting in my grandfather’s closet. I ended up selling it because I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I was young. I didn’t have the money to pay for a gunsmith at the time.
I carry almost everywhere I go, and when I’m carrying, I feel safer with it because I know what my training is. I feel confident enough that if I needed to, I could use it. Of course I would hope that never happens. But I do feel safer having the ability to defend myself and my kids. I don’t carry when I go to pick up my kids from school or things like that, because obviously you can’t have guns in school zones. There are some limitations to what I can do, but if I’m able to carry in that location, then I carry.
I have been fortunate enough to not have any interactions with the police but I worry about it daily. I almost bought a dash camera just to make sure that any action I take is recorded. I mean, I have friends who are police officers. I just try my best to make sure everyone’s at ease. But it hasn’t happened to me yet. I haven’t been pulled over while carrying. I just worry that, when you tell someone you have a weapon, you’re bringing their alert level higher. And my understanding of Florida law is that you don’t have to declare that you have a weapon on you. But I don’t know why you wouldn’t. I worry about if I didn’t tell them and they saw it or if I told them and then they felt more threatened. I mean, what’s the right approach? And I worry about the repercussions of the wrong approach.
My wife isn’t comfortable with guns. I have a safe, and I have to keep everything in the safe. And that’s just how it is. She’s nervous because we have small children. I have a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, so you just want to make sure that the guns are always secured and unloaded. And I believe that children should know that they exist so that curiosity isn’t there. I’ve explained to the oldest one that they shouldn’t touch them. The youngest one is aware of them, but they’re in a safe. She can’t get to them. When she’s about 5, I’ll probably talk to her about them, too, and I plan on having my kids shoot when they’re about 10 or 11 just so they understand how a gun operates. Maybe it’ll scare them into not liking them or maybe it will take their interest. But either way, I want to make sure that I know their level of interest, that I can gauge that and see how to handle it.
That’s an important conversation that every gun owner has to have with their children. We try to be vigilant, but, unfortunately, access can happen. You forget to close the safe all the way or a kid can hit it with a hammer and it bumps open ― anything can happen. Who knows? But it’s better to have the conversation.
“Anyone who wasn’t white and who had a weapon was considered a thug.”
Rodney Jackson, 46, Plano, Texas
Jackson works in IT security. He owns several handguns. He has two Springfields: the classic 1911 .45-caliber and a 9 millimeter. He also owns a Sig Sauer 9 mm and a Kimber 1911. He bought his wife a Sig Sauer P238 .380-caliber firearm.
I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, in the inner city. And during that time there was a lot of violence. I never was part of it. I was always a school boy. And then I attended college with a bunch of my friends who were like me, about 50 miles north. And that was our first interaction with another race, with white folks. I started learning that a lot of them believed in carrying guns, and I thought it was, at the time, just a gang activity. But I learned that a lot of folks go out and hunt, and they collect guns for a variety of reasons.
After I left college, I moved to Texas, and here, everybody has a gun. Everybody has a concealed carry handgun license. But I noticed that not many people who look like me had a concealed carry license. So at that point, I said, “How about if I get a gun and start using it, practicing, going to a range and so forth, and then look into getting a concealed carry license?” And I did that.
I just wanted to exercise my right. It was almost like I was witnessing people ― when I say people, I mean white Americans ― exercise theirs, but they didn’t want us to carry. Anyone who wasn’t white and who had a weapon was considered a thug. I wasn’t a thug. So I was gonna get one, and I was going to go through the proper classes and safely learn how to use it.
When I first visited a gun show I saw that it really wasn’t that many black people there at all. So I felt good about my decision, and I wanted to try to encourage more people to do it, too. And that’s how come I still, to this day, collect weapons and continue to motivate people to get their carry license.
I pitch potential black gun owners on the safety aspect and that it is actually our right to be able to carry a weapon because of the Second Amendment. I think we should practice all of our rights. They would prefer if you don’t have one for that reason alone. It’s almost like a rebellious type of front that I come at them from. Why wouldn’t you want to carry one?
When I first got the weapon, I was really into it. I was going to the range several times a week, and I really wanted to be a proficient shooter. And what I noticed is that I started feeling uncomfortable because it was all whites there, and they had all sorts of weapons ― like weapons that you just wouldn’t hunt with, but military-style weapons that they would practice with.
One day at the range, I decided I was going to change out a sight on one of my weapons. I went to the gunsmith, and while I was waiting, these white guys came up. One guy said to Joe the gunsmith: “Joe, I want you to meet my friend Mark. Mark, Joe is the best gunsmith in Texas. When Armageddon comes, I got a compound in East Texas. I’m getting Joe, and we gonna live on our compound and we gonna defend ourselves because Armageddon is coming and we’re going to take this place back.”
He said it right there in front of me, and that just made me feel like they’re gearing up for something, whether it’s going to come to fruition or not. And it made me want to always protect myself, always carry, always have something on me.
But I don’t feel safer with a gun. Here’s why: It’s almost like a fight. If you don’t pull yours first, you almost stand no chance. If you get hit first, you really stand no chance after that. Somewhat I feel safer. But, you know, if I’m at a gas station and someone is determined to rob me, I don’t really stand a chance against them. However, if I’m somewhere where there are a lot of people, and something breaks out, and it’s is not directed at me, I stand a better chance with a weapon of getting out of there.
There’ve been a couple times I’ve been pulled over, and, in carry class, they teach you how to handle a traffic stop. I always have my hands outside the car ― and I was taught that at a very young age. So when the officer comes up, I have my driver’s license and insurance card in my hand. Although I know now they don’t really need the insurance card ― they can look it up ― I still have it ready because I don’t want to reach in my glove box even though the weapon is not there. It’s normally on my person.
When I have my hands out, when he sees the carry license, the first thing he asks is, “Are you carrying?” I hate that question. Because I don’t see what the purpose of the question is. If I say no, is that going to take you off guard? If I say yes, is that going to make you more on guard? So I’d prefer you don’t ask the question. If I gave you the carry permit, just assume I have it. If I have a carry permit, that means I went through all the background checks.
But I did have a friend ― a white friend ― and we were at QuikTrip. He was carrying. We were in line and there was a police officer in line as well. As we’re leaving, my friend, the officer stopped my friend and said, “You have a permit for that?” Now I don’t know how the officer saw it, because my friend had a shirt covering it. But I guess the gun was bulging out.
My friend said yes, and the cop said, “That’s what I thought,” walked away and let him go. I just found that to be interesting. I don’t think the officer would have assumed I had a permit. I don’t think he would have let me go just by saying I had a permit. And sometimes, I want to test it. I know I’m putting my life in jeopardy if I do it, but sometimes when I see police inside QuikTrip, I say, “I should carry in here just to see.”
This is what I really believe: If more of us actually got carry permits, I think they’d change the law. I really do. I think that would be the fastest way of getting more gun control. I joined the NRA when I first got my weapon. And I will never rejoin because the NRA doesn’t protect African-Americans who actually have their carry permit and did it the legal way.
“Police shootings are a factor and they have to be.”
James, 42, Western Pennsylvania
James, who asked to use a pseudonym for privacy reasons, is an educator. He owns a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun and a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson M&P compact handgun.
I’ve been around them all my life. The first firearm that I purchased was at the age of 22, 23. Up until then, I had always borrowed a firearm to go out and hunt. I hunted as a kid, and that’s how I got involved with firearms. Around 30, I got a handgun. But other than that, it’s been a shotgun or a rifle for sport.
As a teenager, I took a hunter’s safety course. That was the start. I didn’t get into yearly hunting until I started working a full-time job.
I wanted to carry for protection, obviously. Once I moved out on my own and was living in different areas, that was a form of home defense. Once I had a family, that was something we kept in the house until the boys were old enough that I didn’t want that around them. My oldest boy is 12. I haven’t hunted in years. We choose not to keep the rifle in the house. We keep it in another location.
He’s 12 now. He’s of age to where he wants to shoot but it’s going to be a process of taking him out to do that. I hate to use other events to shape how we parent, but he will learn the safety of it, he will get involved with it, but it isn’t the time to do that. We’re going to wait until he’s a little bit older before he takes the hunter’s safety course. But he will be taught the proper way to handle a gun.
He has two brothers who are a little bit younger than him. And it doesn’t take much. He’s seen what goes on and that’s why I no longer even think about applying for the concealed carry permit. Here in Pennsylvania, it used to be you’d go to the sheriff’s office, they’d take care of it, and that was it. But I will not carry a weapon on me even with a permit. That’s a safety issue. I know people who do, but that will not be me ― especially being African-American.
I hate to say that, but police shootings are a factor and they have to be. It’s not unheard of for kids to be outside with their NERF guns or paintball guns. However, we have specific rules. If you’re going to play with these, you have to be in the back of the house. We have to have that talk. You’re not walking around. You’re not going off the property or from our area with that. Someone may mistake the toy gun for something else, and something bad can happen. I hate for it to be that way, but that’s the nature of it.
When my boys have a home of their own, if they choose to own a gun and use it for sport, that will be fine. I have no issue with that whatsoever. But in no way do I want them to have their carry permit. That is not something I would like them to do at all.
Being in an area where it’s predominantly white, and going to some of these different places to shoot my shotgun, it gets uncomfortable at times. And some of my co-workers say they’re going out to shoot clay pigeons or whatever ― and that’s fine. But you gotta tell me about this area you’re taking me into. They’ve been great friends of mine. So they wouldn’t be involved in an area where my race would be an issue. But it’s always there when you talk about guns.
I haven’t been in any of those situations, but people from outside of my circle would look at me a little bit different. If you’re outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia can be anywhere down South. You go into one of these gun shops, or anywhere to shoot, and you’re likely to see Confederate flags. It’s pretty common.
I don’t feel safer with a firearm. A lot of people carry it for their own personal protection, but that’s not me any longer. I don’t feel that that’s going to save me one way or the other. There are other ways for me to get out of a situation. I think a gun might be more of an issue.
Minor updates have been made to this story to adjust terminology used by interviewees.