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 1980s and ’90s, I’ve never been a proponent of guns. Not because I was against their use. I just never believed I needed one.
Now that’s changed.
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, 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.
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 knew I was making an unspoken agreement that I would never use my gun to engage in anything other than my 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 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 neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Va. 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 police called on Blacks for barbecuing, or sleeping or bird-watching. We’ve seen white supremacists like Dylann Roof commit mass murders against Black people. 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 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 seen much of America willing to listen to the views of those who’ve been oppressed.
Still, 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 Philadelphia Inquirer columnist. Leonard Pitts is on vacation.
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