A call to arms: Black women embrace gun ownership, too Local & State

Dorrian Wilson, a tech professional in Charlotte, sits for a portrait in her apart-ment on Sept. 6. Wilson recognizes the necessity of owning firearms self-defense as much as they are a thrill to use for sport in her life. Photo credit: Dustin Duong

Whether for protection or sport, there’s history behind firearm possession

By Clay Morris/UNC Media Hub

    CHAPEL HILL — Dorrian Wilson grew up around guns.

In her hometown of Franklin, Louisiana, having guns was so common that it wouldn’t be unusual for a 5-year-old to receive a rifle on their birthday.

“We hunted, we fished, we grew our own vegetables and guns were not seen as something taboo,” Wilson said.

Wilson, who now lives in Charlotte with her husband, Rob Austin, has an extensive family history of using guns as a form of protection. Her uncles, she said, used firearms in Franklin to fend off white people who wanted to prevent them from voting in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

But her own reason for owning and shooting guns isn’t connected to a specific cause.

To Wilson, guns are a necessity.

“For me owning a gun is, ‘I need shoes so my feet don’t get wet, I need gloves if it’s cold outside. I carry my gun on the off chance that somebody wants to kill me today,’” Wilson said. Wilson is a part of the growing number of Black women across America who own guns. The National African American Gun Association has 30,000 members and 60% of those members are women, according to its website.  And during the pandemic, the number of new gun owners grew, with 21% of them Black and over 50% women.

But these numbers, and stories written about them, attempt to make Black women a “new” face of gun ownership in America. That ignores the rich history of Black women with guns and attempts to generalize a demographic full of nuance.

Joy Allen, owner and founder of InHERPiece, a shooting club for Black women and women of color with chapters in Raleigh and Spring Lake, N.C., didn’t grow up with guns in her immediate home. But she was comfortable around them from an early age because her grandparents owned shotguns.

“Growing up in the city, and once I got out of the house, I was not necessarily a gun fan,” Allen said. “And when I had children, I did know I did not want guns in the house while they were younger.”

In late 2016, Allen decided she wanted to learn how to shoot as a personal goal. Her children were old enough to be trained responsibly, and it seemed like a way to relieve stress from her job in clinical research.

“I just wanted to do it as something fun,” she said.

After taking her first shot, Allen was “addicted.”

“The first time I pulled the trigger it was very therapeutic,” she said. “I just felt empowered.”

Wilson’s reason for stepping into the world of guns is a bit more direct.

“The real reason why I carry my gun is to kill men,” she said. “I’ve had instances in my life where guns were pulled on me by men, just trying to get to my apartment. So, my number one goal is still safety.”

A 2020 Washington Post investigation found that since 2015 Black women have accounted for 20% of the women fatally shot in America and 28% of unarmed deaths, despite only making up 13% of the population overall. And a 2019 report from the Violence Policy Center found that Black women had the highest rate of homicides perpetrated by men.

“So, if I post a picture of myself shooting, carrying or something like that, the majority of the responses from women are ‘I need to learn how to shoot.’ And men, almost 100% of their responses are ‘I know not to mess with you,’” Wilson said. “In your predatory mind you know now that I’m not prey.”  Black women have always used guns to protect themselves from men and other threats, said Antwain K. Hunter, an assistant history professor at UNC Chapel Hill who is writing a book about the history of race and firearms in North Carolina between 1729-1865. “Certainly when you get to the 1820s and ‘30s and then heading through the U.S. Civil War and even through reconstruction there are women who are armed,” Hunter said. “And so, one of the things I think stands out to me the most is thinking about why these women are armed. And a lot of it boils down to pragmatism. They’re able to defend themselves and their family members in ways that unarmed people are not.”

To Erica Maness, co-owner of Sharpshooterz Tactical, a firearm educational company in Greensboro, the idea of the woman as protector has stood the test of time.

“Women in general usually are the caretakers of their family, so they have to be in protective mode at all times,” Maness said. “Of course, that doesn’t always mean you have to have a firearm to do that, but to have that as an option, if and when it’s needed, is wonderful.”

Most Americans have an understanding of history that is incompatible with the idea that Black women may choose to own guns, Hunter said.

“As an American people we do a disservice to our history,” he said. “You hear it in the debates around textbooks, you hear it in the debates around the boogeyman of critical race theory that everyone is up in arms about. Many Americans like history that coddles us and makes us feel warm and fuzzy about the past.”

And to Wilson, that fuzzy feeling has led to an apathy regarding Black women and their experiences, making recent statistics seem more monumental than they are.

“They don’t ask us a lot of different things,” Wilson said, referring to Black women. “Unless we are in service to something else: our personal opinions on how we feel aren’t usually recorded. Or why we do things, or if things are happening to us, they aren’t usually taken into consideration in a larger story.”

Rhonda Carson, owner and founder of Girlz on Fire, a firearm instruction academy in High Point, thinks the face of gun culture in America is so white that Black people, and Black women in particular, are getting lost in the parade of white men commonly associated with gun culture.      “In the media when it comes to gun news, there’s a lot of talk about the NRA, which we really don’t identify with as people of color,” Carson said.

The NRA, Carson said, is also seemingly unconcerned with Black members of the “2A community” — those who are supporters of the Second Amendment — male, female or otherwise.

“When they killed Philando Castile, a lot of Black people turned away from the NRA because they did not come out and make a statement in support of him as a legal concealed carry holder,” Carson said. “They’re not fighting for us. They’re fighting more for politics.”

Wilson also made it very clear that she sees her connection to guns as distinct from the broader “psychosis” and obsession with shooting that many Americans associate with gun owners.

“Sometimes you can look in the 2A community around Instagram and Facebook and you see people whose lives are consumed by thinking that everything and everyone and every instance is a threat,” she said. “I don’t ascribe to those things and I don’t let them penetrate my thinking.”

The specifics, though, of where other people think Black women fall within the landscape of gun culture in America is neither here nor there to Carson.

“I’m not really sure how Americans perceive Black women who own guns,” she said. “I just know we’re here.”

 

About Carma Henry 20866 Articles
Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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