In the first half of 2020, gun purchases by African Americans increased by 58% over the same period last year. That’s a bigger increase than any other group, according to a study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearm industry’s trade organization.
I’m not surprised. I’m one of the Black people who bought a gun for the first time this year.
Though I spent my teen years in North Philly during the rise of crack-driven violence in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I’ve never been a proponent of guns. Not because I was against their use. I just never believed I needed one.
But that’s changed over the last few years.
I still believe I’m fairly safe among Black people. I think my family is, too. However, in a time of economic and medical strife, with a president who regularly engages in racial rhetoric that paints Black and brown people as the other, I’m concerned about what the future may hold. To be blunt, President Donald Trump has emboldened America’s racists, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be irresponsible to leave my family defenseless.
I didn’t come to this decision easily. When my children were younger, my wife and I determined that we wouldn’t have guns in our home. It was too dangerous to do so with little ones afoot, and our Philadelphia neighborhood was relatively safe. Yes, there were property crimes that served as nuisances, but serious violence was rare, and our home was a place of peace.
I’ve also worked hard to stop gun violence through my work with ManUpPHL, an organization I founded to provide mentoring and resources to men who are at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of gun crimes. That’s why, when I walked into a gun store and underwent a background check to legally purchase a gun, I did so with the knowledge that I was entering into a pact with my community. I knew I was making an unspoken agreement that I would never use my gun to engage in anything other than my responsibility as a husband and father, the responsibility to defend and protect those I love.
While I continue to feel safe in my home and community, America as a whole has grown increasingly dangerous for Black people under the leadership of President Trump. At first it was just rhetoric that painted Mexicans as criminals and rapists. Then it was the notion that there were very fine people among the neo-Nazis who marched to protect a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, Virginia. Then it was the assertion that Black people came from s—hole countries, that monuments to slavery should be protected, and most recently, that federal agents should be called in to quell protests against racism.
All of this has emboldened those who hate Black people. We’ve seen their racist actions as they’ve called the police on Blacks for perceived infractions like barbecuing, or sleeping, or bird-watching while black. We’ve seen white supremacists like Dylann Roof commit mass murders against Black people. We’ve seen them challenge government in places like Michigan with heavily armed protests that looked more like Klan rallies than demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions.
As a student of history, I’m concerned that in a time of economic hardship and overall uncertainty, such people will do what has historically been the norm. They will look for others to blame. Jews were the other in Hitler’s Germany, and Muslims were the other after 9/11, for too many Americans. As has been the case throughout American history, Black people are the other right now.
One glaring difference gives me some reason to hope. I’ve seen white allies take to the streets to protest against racial injustice. I’ve spoken with white pastors who’ve rejected the racist practice of segregated worship. I’ve seen much of America willing to listen to the views of those who’ve been oppressed.
Still, this reality remains. In Trump’s America, there is an emboldened and heavily armed faction that believes in racist ideology, and while I believe they’re vastly outnumbered by fair-minded people, they are here. But so am I, and I’m not going anywhere.
I hope I never have to use my gun to protect my family, especially since Black people who are legal gun owners risk being harmed by police who see them as threats to be eliminated rather than citizens to be assisted.
Still, as long as racists have the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, I will be practicing that right, too.
Solomon Jones is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
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