Apr 23, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Why more people of color are buying guns

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

People of color are buying guns at higher rates than ever before, even as many acknowledge that they might not be able to enjoy their Second Amendment rights in the same way as white Americans.

Why it matters: Heightened violence, including new homicide records, a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and national attention to police brutality, have pushed more Black, Latino and Asian Americans to seek out firearms as a form of self-protection.

By the numbers: The initial surge in firearms purchases was in part driven by the pandemic as fear and uncertainty set in, according to Mark Oliva, spokesperson for the firearm industry trade association National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). Retailer surveys conducted by NSSF showed that between 2019 and 2020, there was a...

  • 58% increase in African Americans buying guns.
  • 49% increase in Hispanic Americans buying guns.
  • 43% increase in Asian Americans buying firearms.

These rates of increase remained unchanged between 2020 and 2021 among nearly 60% of retailers.

What they're saying: With anti-Asian hate crimes splashed across the news every day, many Asian Americans felt that their only option was to turn to firearms, said Chris Cheng, founding board member of the Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association.

High-profile cases of police brutality also drove many Black Americans to take their safety into their own hands as it became clear they can't trust law enforcement, Douglas Jefferson, senior vice president of the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA), told Axios.

  • If officers are "taking part in what is essentially state-sponsored violence, certainly you're not going to be relying on the state to protect you," Jefferson said. Over 10,000 people have joined NAAGA in the last two years, he said.

The Defund the Police movement, which aims to shift resources from police to other social services, has made some Latino immigrants wary, too, said Gabby Franco, a Venezuelan firearms instructor who has worked with Latinos in many of her classes.

  • Many come from countries with high crime rates and have firsthand experience with underfunded police, she added. "It's like, 'For me to pursue my dreams, I need to make sure that I stay alive,'" Franco told Axios. That means making the most of the rights they may not have had in their home countries.

Yes, but: People of color, especially Black people, "don't have the ability to access that right in the same way," said Daniel Harawa, Washington University of St. Louis law professor.

  • Because they're more likely to be perceived as a threat due to stereotypes around race, "it creates this kind of complication where folks want to be able to protect themselves ... but then exercising that right could have very real and in fact deadly consequences."
  • Jefferson, however, pointed out that for Black Americans, exercising any right is a risk.

Don't forget: Gun violence disproportionately impacts Black, Native American and Latino communities.

The big picture: That more people of color are exercising their Second Amendment rights could spell trouble for Democrats, who already suffered losses among these demographics in key battleground states in 2020.

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