Handgun advertisers often insist that firearms need to be carried for self-protection. But protection from whom?
Since the earliest days of the country’s history, white Americans have used firearms to control enslaved people, fight Native people, and enact racist terror in the name of maintaining their place in society — sowing the roots of what guns represent to many people today. In turn, this legacy of racism has long compelled some Americans of color to arm themselves. In 2020, five million Americans — many of them Black — bought guns for the first time.
In episode two of The Gun Machine, host Alain Stephens talks to historian Carol Anderson about the racist roots of the Second Amendment and travels to Florida to attend the Pew Party. There, he talks to Black gun owners about why they carry, examining the link between our nation’s fraught history and why it’s so easy to sell us guns today.
Alain Stephens: If there is one thing to know about America, it’s that it’s a land of revolution. And no one would know that better than a Virginia blacksmith with a plan: Gabriel Prosser.
[Carol Anderson: He and his brother had in fact created swords as part of their weapons in order to fight this rebellion but they knew…]
Alain Stephens: Gabriel and other early American arrivals had grown tired of working under the bootheel of an institution they had no stake in creating. No rights. A world where your life and livelihood were dictated by born status, not merit. So he spread the word to nearly 1,000 like-minded men with a promise.
[Carol Anderson: He said that all of those who believed in liberty would be able to be in this incredible space, would be able to enjoy this vibrant democracy.]
Alain Stephens: Gabriel’s enemies were better armed, organized, already suspicious of sedition. If he and his men were planning on getting out alive, his operation would have to be executed sharply, swiftly, perfectly.
[Carol Anderson: The plan was to have basically three divisions. One division would set a warehouse on fire as a diversionary tactic. The other division would go to the treasury and get the money in order to be able to pay for the insurgence. And the other division would go to the armory and get the guns and the ammunition that they needed in order to fight for their liberty.]
Alain Stephens: You see, Gabriel Prosser and his conspirators were some of America’s first patriots. But you’d never know it. Because they were Black. And the enemy they were fighting was the United States. To be specific: The plantation-class government of 1800s Virginia, whose number of enslaved people accounted for nearly 40% of the state’s total population. And Gabriel and his followers needed guns to take on the government. Gabe’s rebellion would ultimately be dashed. A freak storm on the eve of the attack shook the resolve of the men, one more than the others. In particular, a conspirator named Pharaoh.
[Carol Anderson: He’s sitting out there and the rain and the thunder is hitting, and every time there was a crack of lightning, every time there was a burst of thunder, his nerves were shattering. And so he was like, “OK, we gonna die. We just gonna die.” He’s like, “I’m gonna be free, but I’m gonna be free by telling my master about this plot.”]
Alain Stephens: In total some 70 men would be arrested. Gabriel, his brother, and 23 others would be made examples of and hung. A few others would be sold to plantations out of state. And two would be granted freedom for being informants to the government. While many Americans may have heard of the Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia or the Stono rebellion in South Carolina, as a Black journalist covering the history of American violence, I discovered that there were nearly 300 slave revolts throughout the course of American history — most of which have been purposefully erased.
Alain Stephens: I’m Alain Stephens, and you’re listening to The Gun Machine: How America Was Forged by the Gun Industry, a podcast by WBUR and the Trace. On the last episode of The Gun Machine, we explained how America built its early gun industry. In this episode, we have to go back to the actual beginning — and ask the why.
Alain Stephens: What type of society necessitates the need for not just militaries to be armed, but everyone—all the time? Today, we talk about America’s foundation of fear, and how the gun industry was built on top of it. Chapter two: Why we carry.
Alain Stephens: It’s the 1600s in Central Europe. Two things are about to happen that will change the world forever. The first is the invention of the flintlock musket. Before that, the systems that sparked the gunpowder in guns were finicky in wet or humid conditions. But the flintlock musket was reliable, battle tested and therefore prime to be exported outside of the mild European temperatures. And secondly, the Protestant reformation had swept through Europe. The Catholic church had long banned the sale of European guns to non-Catholic nations, but Protestant churches didn’t care. This caused the Catholics to abandon their policy, sparking a mass sell off — Europeans dumping guns into new countries. And it was in Africa, where Europeans will find the closest and most worthwhile commodity for trade: Human cargo. And just like that, the Triangle Slave Trade was born. The guns-for-bodies trade was so high that by the 18th century, records show gunpowder accounted for nearly 40% of European imports to Africa. But, the firearm wasn’t just the lubricant of the slave trade abroad. It was also its guarantee — right here in America. The invention of the firearm was a force multiplier. It was the gun that made colonial slavery even possible. UC Berkeley history professor Brian DeLay says the firearm now gave regular, working colonists the ability to control those in bondage even if they were outnumbered.
[Brian DeLay: Slavery was a fact in every single colony. And of course, it was concentrated in the Southern colonies. And slavery doesn’t work without a weapons gap.]
Alain Stephens: By 1775, before we were the United States of anything, 20% of America’s colonial population was enslaved Africans, most of them living in the South, all of whom posed a potential security risk to established order.
[Brian DeLay: This required the able-bodied adult male population of white colonists to be armed at a far higher rate than, say, was the case among average working people in Great Britain at the time.]
[Alain Stephens: So if I was a Black person living, say, in 17th-century America, how would I go about getting my hands on a gun? And what opportunities could that make for me?
Carol Anderson: You would have the opportunity to be whipped. Thirty-nine lashes, that’s the opportunity that you had.]
Alain Stephens: This is Carol Anderson, a professor of African-American history at Emory University, who has been investigating something you probably haven’t heard about in school: the link between the Second Amendment and America’s long history of slavery and racism. Let me go ahead and burst that bubble and hurt your feelings right now, and get this out the way: Most Americans subscribe to certain myths about the foundation of our country.
[ Music / “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”]
Alain Stephens: But that was never the case. The South had gone all in on plantation slavery from the start. Which brings me to the next myth: That plantation slavery as a system just somehow worked, when in fact, the slave economy was a dangerous economy. Large-scale slave rebellions continuously rocked the country, not to mention many other individual acts of defiance and violence in the face of enslavement. Enslaved people fighting back against their enslaver; I’m talking about stabbings, beheadings, shootings, real heavy metal shit. But it also meant that plantation societies had to function like prison societies. So if you had to imagine the South, imagine a network of omnipresent slave patrols on the horizons, contraband and shakedowns, and the constant looming suspicion that at any given time these plantation owners could all get their little slaving heads cut off. In 1680 Virginia prohibits Black people from using a gun in self defense against white attackers, even if they are free. In 1681 the colony of New York bans Black people from having any sort of weapons. In 1741 North Carolina’s legislature implements state-paid bounties for slaves, and the right for patrollers to keep any guns and other contraband plucked off the enslaved as personal rewards during shakedowns. And this was all before the Revolutionary War even took place. By the time the Colonies began drafting the Constitution, there was no standing military. And the creation of one would be highly regulated. But at the same time, a number of southern colonies were concerned with a more internal threat to their peculiar institution: Slave revolts. So they demanded the constitution include a security backstop to their enterprise: Give us the ability to carry guns, quash insurgencies, and support the web of slave patrols that had already been established.
[Carol Anderson: The bad history that we have had about the Second Amendment. How it gets cloaked in this nobility of the militia fighting off domestic tyranny and fighting off of foreign invasion when in fact the militia really wasn’t really good at either of those. What it was effective at was putting down slave revolts.]
Alain Stephens: Without the Second Amendment, many Southern colonial forefathers refuse to ratify the Constitution at all.
[Carol Anderson: The Second Amendment was the bribe to the South to not scuttle the Constitution of the United States and to therefore not scuttle the nation itself and it was George Mason talking about we will be left defenseless if this militia is put under the control of the feds. We cannot trust the federal government to protect us from these Black people.]
Alain Stephens: Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why do I not know about this? And that is actually by design. First and foremost, Americans still struggle to talk about the national embarrassment that was slavery. We don’t like to think of our society as violent. And after the writing of the Constitution it just gets more violent. Like I said earlier, there were nearly 300 slave uprisings from the country’s inception to the end of the Civil War. And if you read abolitionist newspaper clippings from the Antebellum era, you hear of countless other tales of violence and threat. Escaped slaves using contraband revolvers to shoot it out with captors. Enslaved women bludgeoning to death their white assaulters. A parent killing their own child rather than return them to the horrors of servitude. But there is another reason we don’t know about it. And that is a strategic one. Back in the 1800s, Insurrection was bad for business. In the 1860s, the economic value of the enslaved was worth $4 billion. In today’s money, that comes out closer to $42 trillion. That was more than all the banks, factories, and railroads in the U.S. were worth at the time. Stories and plans of rebellion were inspiring to Black people. And the U.S government was aware of this, and acutely aware of similar things going on internationally, with successful slave revolts in places like Haiti. So there was a desire to keep these stories out of public view.
[Carol Anderson: The Haitian Revolution, I’ve got to say upfront, scared the bejeebers out of the Founding Fathers. When you look at their correspondence, they’re like, oh my God, did you see what just happened in Saint-Domingue? Oh, if those ideas come here, we are going to be in trouble. If Black people believe that they can be free, that these ideas about liberty and justice apply to them, we are doomed.]
Alain Stephens: So these stories were erased from American history. But that fear of Black people, and the need to defend oneself from Black people, didn’t go away after the end of slavery with the Civil War. In fact, in many regards, those fears got worse.
[Nicholas Buttrick: When thinking about what makes America unique, you know, it’s really not that much of a skip and jump to see, well, is there anything to do with our history of enslavement, our history of civil war, and the ways that we’ve thought about who is safe and who is dangerous in our country?]
Alain Stephens: Nicholas Buttrick is a professor of social psychology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He has spent the last couple of years researching how and why America formed its current gun culture. What he found was: A great deal of how we view the need to carry guns today, stems from attitudes formed in the wake of Reconstruction.
[Nicholas Buttrick: You have emancipation and with emancipation comes the rise of Black political power and for the white antebellum elite, it seems as if this is something that cannot stand.]
[From Gone With The Wind: Well, Ashley, you’re wrong. I do wanna escape too. I’m so very tired of it all. I’ve struggled for food and for money. I weeded and hoed and picked cotton until I can’t stand for another minute. I tell you, Ashley, the South is dead. It’s dead. The Yankees and the carpetbaggers have got it and there’s nothing left for us!]
Alain Stephens: This line from Gone With the Wind may seem melodramatic to us, but for Scarlett O’Hara and crew, it was an understatement. The American South during reconstruction was a hellhole, akin to any modern post-war occupational environment you’d see today. Law and order was nearly abandoned. Basic commodities were scarce. The only thing in ready supply were the newly freed Black Americans beginning to cement their burgeoning political power and an avalanche of post war guns. White Americans in the South lose their goddamn minds at the new status quo.
[Nicholas Buttrick: A lot of the speeches that these redeemers were using is that they seem to anchor a lot of sort of Southerness — Southern masculinity, ways of restoring a Southern way of life — in firearms specifically. And I think this makes a lot of sense, that the South, while destroyed physically, was just totally awash in firearms.]
Alain Stephens: Homicide rates were 18 times higher in the South than they were in the North. And these guns were different. The Civil War was one of the first conflicts with mechanized production of guns. Soldiers return home with high-quality weapons — and lots of them.
[Nicholas Buttrick: And you also have a really dangerous society. You have murder rates that are completely out of control. And so you have a dangerous world with a lot of weapons, and it maybe makes sense that rich white Southerners might look to different sorts of ways of figuring out how to suppress Black power and to rally white power. And one of the items we think that was really super salient were all these guns.]
Alain Stephens: White southerners formed hundreds of so-called rifle clubs, claiming they needed to defend themselves against Black people, even though most of the murders at the time were white on white. The clubs were actually armed white supremacist groups meant to intimidate voters and diminish Black political power. This started forming a modern gun identity and set forth ideas in people about what the government could and couldn’t do. In the Reconstruction South, state constitutions were being rewritten. For the first time, Black people had political power. Many white Southerners didn’t trust the government to represent their interests. To protect them and their sense of order. So they felt they had to take matters into their own hands, and guns were an important symbol. Buttrick’s research makes one thing abundantly clear. The counties with the highest rates of enslavement before the Civil War are the places where today we see the highest rates of gun ownership. And by following social media connections, Buttrick also found that as those same Americans have migrated around the country, so have those ideas about guns. The communities with the deepest social and cultural ties to slaveholding counties, carry similar feelings about gun ownership in the present day. His research also suggests that while people think of guns as a defense against physical threats, they’re also using them as a defense against psychological threats.
[Nicholas Buttrick: Guns become a sort of a totem or a charm, you know, that help gun owners to feel their lives are more meaningful, that they have more control, and that they feel safer.]
Alain Stephens: It’s also an identity that has fueled gun companies and gun sales.
[Nicholas Buttrick: And so I think that the Civil War in its aftermath, set a template, but it’s a template that we’ve then been building on as a society for quite a while and so, it’s not just that these things happened once and and ended, you know, that there is quite a lot of advertising, quite a lot of marketing, which is sort of reinforcing these beliefs that we’ve had about how guns work.]
Alain Stephens: And for a hundred years white people become ingrained with the notion that firearms in this country equals autonomy, identity, and most of all power. And that’s all fine and dandy, until Black people start getting guns too.
[Newsreel: The Black Panthers first made national news just a year ago when they entered the state capitol in Sacramento armed with rifles and pistols.]
Alain Stephens: In 1967 when the Panthers march on the capitol, legally carrying guns to protest a newly proposed gun control bill, then-Governor Ronald Reagan would respond by signing it into law: Banning public carry without a permit. The NRA would approve. It would become the state’s first major piece of legislation restricting the right to carry a gun, and would lead to a slew of gun control laws targeting Black people nationwide. Then, the following year, we’d really melt down.
[Newsreel: Martin Luther King 20 minutes ago died.
Newsreel: The police and national guard also used the Justice Department guidelines of restraint, at least in theory. It was still a bloody, costly three days for Chicago.]
Alain Stephens: In the wake of King’s death there would be over 100 uprisings. And Congress would renew a once-stalled effort to limit access to guns. They’d pass the 1968 Gun Control Act, which laid the groundwork for modern laws around who is allowed to buy and sell firearms. But, more importantly, just look at the here and now. As demographics change, we fragment. The Obama administration sparked record gun sales for the time, but it wouldn’t hold a candle to 2020. If COVID had us locked, the murder of George Floyd — and the protests that followed — would get us absolutely loaded.
[Newsreel: This is an unlawful assembly. Please…
Newsreel: These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror. (Protest jeering sound)
Newsreel: One person shot and killed at a Black Lives Matter protest in Austin, Texas
Newsreel: When the Proud Boys Group showed up, a confrontation caused a violent street fight to break out. Police ordered the crowds to disperse, and they also…]
Alain Stephens: Americans would buy over 40 million guns in 2020 and 2021. That’s more guns than the entire population of Canada. Five million of those Americans would be grabbing a piece for the first time. And it would pour billions into the pockets of the gun industry. I would watch in real time as my beat as a gun reporter went from niche specialty to sitting front row to the largest wave of gun buying in recorded American history. How’s that for job security?And it’s not like it’s an undercurrent that gun culture hasn’t been afraid to tap into.
[Dana Loesch: Make them protest. Make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia, to smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports…]
Alain Stephens: In that ad, the NRA calls racial justice protests “madness” and calls on Americans to fight them with what they call a “clenched fist of truth.” Rifle producer Daniel Defense ended up in Congress last year where lawmakers grilled them on using extremist iconography in their ads.
[Kelly Sampson: That’s a valknut, and it’s a symbol that has been increasingly embraced by white supremacists.]
Alain Stephens: But it doesn’t have to be that explicit. I’ve always been a gun nerd. And growing up, I’d cringe at the number of times I’d come across Confederate flags, Nazi war gear, and/or straight-up disdain of anything not white American. It’s this shadow that, no matter how far I go into the community, is still always there. And don’t get me wrong… I’m not trying to say that everyone who is buying a gun is doing so because they are racist. More so, that when your country is founded on a fundamental fear of the person next door, carrying a gun is a lot more palatable than not carrying one. But if gun ownership and the gun industry was built on whiteness, what does it mean to be a Black gun owner now? We’ll find out in a minute.
[Juan Dahl: You heard that?
Alain Stephens: Yeah.
Juan Dahl: That was a gator.
Grace Tatter: I did not hear that.]
Alain Stephens: That’s producer Grace Tatter. And this is the Bunker Club, it’s a field in Clermont, Florida, where hundreds of gun enthusiasts assemble in the swamp-like humidity to do one thing: Play with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of high-powered weaponry, and we’re gonna play, too.
[Alain Stephens: It’s asking me: “Am I currently on probation?” No. “Have I ever been adjudicated as a mentally defective or committed to a mental institution?” No. “Under influence of alcohol or drugs or anything?” Negative. “Issued a restraining order, domestic violence act, barring me?” No. “Have you ever handled a handgun?”]
Alain Stephens: This is Pew Party 2.
[Alain Stephens: Yes. “You ever handled a rifle or shotgun?” Yes. Click here to sign.]
Alain Stephens: It’s a Black-led shooting event, and it’s the second time it’s being held in as many years. It’s a playground of berms, tires, and targets.
[Grace Tatter: Have I ever handled a handgun? No. Rifle or shotgun? No. I think I’m the only person here who probably answered no to both of those questions.]
Alain Stephens: Pew Party 2 is an event created by Jay Jenkins, aka Jay the Shooter, a self-described GunTuber — a firearms social media influencer.
[Jay Jenkins: The G17 has consistently lost, so Imma get a Glock a let a few rounds off.]
Alain Stephens: Jay’s a businessman — one of the few Black people in the country who carries a coveted FFL SOT 3, a federal license that allows him to develop and sell things like suppressors and automatic weapons. These events are about building his brand, where he invites regular people, particularly Black people, so they can do two things: Meet face to face with the cutting-edge companies in the gun industry, plus they get a chance to handle some iconic and advanced weaponry.
[sound of gunfire]
[Alain Stephens: Oh my god, that was tight. That was a P90 over there. So, look at it. It’s kind of like a sci-fi looking gun, has this crazy magazine that fits on top. But a pretty good fast rate of fire, so, you know… Again, these are all, you know, movie guns, things that like high level military, like, you know, things that, are in catalogs, that most people’d never be able to touch.
[sound of gunfire]
Alain Stephens: Are you over my shoulder? Get this. When we run out, it’s gonna make this awesome sound.
[sound of gunfire]
Alain Stephens: And that was the sound.]
Alain Stephens: If you can’t tell, I actually love guns. And I always have. I’m Black, but more specifically I’m biracial. I was introduced to guns at a young age by my dad, a white man from Appalachia. And I remember the stares I’d get growing up, going to gun shows down south in Texas. The standoffish gun shop owners. The rangemasters, who with a sheer glance, would remind me that no matter who I was with or how trained I was, I was there as a guest. So, for me, Pew Party is different. It’s an eccentric assortment of the familiar but the unfamiliar. It’s the most Black people I’ve ever seen at a shooting event, and therefore probably the most comfortable I’ve ever been in such a space.
[Alain Stephens: I mean like, you hear the hammer drop on this thing. Did you see the rounds?]
Alain Stephens: There are things you’d never see at a gun range. Like a DJ, and a Caribbean food truck. And all day a few throughlines became very clear. First, almost every Black person we spoke with clearly understood what it means to be black and all the pitfalls that accompany it. And their response to that reality was on them. That their life was in their own hands.
[Crystal: One, as a Black person in this country, as well as a woman in this country, it’s very important that we be able to protect ourselves with the best tools that are available.
Thomas Lyles: My self-protection is serious.
Tay: How about: Take advantage of your Second Amendment right and do what you need to do to protect you and your family.
T.J.: I wanna protect me and mine.]
Alain Stephens: Secondly, that crazy year of 2020, where there was open white supremacy, government failure, and Covid-19, and the fallout of George Floyd — well, Black people saw it too. And we flocked to guns. Here is Thomas Lyles, a Navy vet and firearms instructor.
[Thomas Lyles: When Trump was in office, that’s when we saw the largest spike of Black gun ownership. And so, a lot of Black people during that time, they felt as if the government, the police, nobody was going to help us or protect us. And so it was on us. We had to protect ourselves.]
Alain Stephens: When he talks to us he is wearing a military chest rig adorned with bits of African kente print, and is carrying thousands of dollars of military-grade hardware. This is my first time meeting him in person, but I’m familiar with his social media:
[Thomas Lyles, from social media: One finger pushes the slide back. I think it might be a good recommendation for female shooters.]
Alain Stephens: His training isn’t to put holes in paper, but winning gunfights.
[Thomas Lyles: Some of my family members, I taught them a CCW class, because during that time when Covid was happening, we had all the protests going on, this country seemed very unbalanced, right? It’s very uncertain. And so even some of the people my family, years before that, had been like “I don’t need a gun. I’ve been alive 40 years and nothing’s ever happened.” But during that time all of a sudden I was getting these phone calls: “Hey, cousin, nephew, when can you come over and teach me a class?” And now they’re into guns. My uncle’s into guns, my cousin’s into guns, like he’s buying rifles, building rifles, buying pistols.]
Alain Stephens: In fact, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 69 percent of people who bought their first gun during the pandemic were people of color. Before that, POCs accounted for only 26 percent of registered gun owners. And if you looked at America through a thousand-foot lens, it kind of makes sense. Black people are some of those most victimized in the country and always have been. We have police systems that hurt more than help, where Black people are five times more likely to be arrested than whites, and three-times as likely to be killed during a police encounter. And with this long pattern of isolation and victimization, is it really a surprise that more Black people are buying guns, too?
Alain Stephens: And how does the industry react to this? Backwards AF. As quick as the NRA is to savage Black Lives Matter protests to rally their base in defense of the gun industry, they’re also quick to point out that often, laws controlling gun ownership have been racist. Literally using critical race theory to fight its battles in court. Some of the messaging in recent years has been, “Come on over, Black customers. We’re happy to have you.” But that same organization collectively shrugs at the death of legal gun owners, like when police outside of St. Paul killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop. It rallies for more aggressive policing, and backs racist politicians. It’s this worldview that contributes to the reality that many of the Pew Party’s participants exist in: The odd looks and stares at gun ranges. The distinct feeling that everyone’s not going to like them — or what they represent. Every Black male we interviewed was acutely aware of toxic images portrayed of Black men with guns — which is why Jay The Shooter says he hosts events like these.
[Alain Stephens: You said one thing about, you know — and I think this is crazy and I gotta revisit — but you said that when it comes to firearms that Black people have really been a victim of poor marketing.
Jay Jenkins: Yes.
Alain Stephens: What has that marketing been and who has put that marketing out there?
Jay Jenkins: Well, you know, let’s be honest. Let’s take some accountability here, right? We have to stop conducting the acts that put ourselves in a negative light. Let’s start there. Let’s start with first accountability. I believe in Black accountability first. And then we can start working on the values and everything else that we need to do to really clean up a lot of the negative images that are being perceived and promoted and projected on us.
Grace Tatter: But a lot of times, so like some of the racist anti-Black images, like gun companies, not all, I’m not saying … the industry isn’t a monolith, but gun companies have made a lot of money off of making people afraid of people, afraid of Black people. How does that, how do you fit into, how do you deal with that?
Jay Jenkins: Right. Right. Look, at the end of the day, every company has their business model. We have to see it for what it is, right? And not be subject to it. Yeah. The fear mongering is there. It is there. I see it. But I choose not to look at that because my mission is not to combat that. My mission is to push legitimacy when it comes to African-Americans, and incubating consumers to merchants. That’s my mission. I can’t stop what I’m doing to go look at what they’re doing. Like we know it’s there. But how do I combat that? By throwing events and bringing more community awareness to what it is. How many times did you pass by somebody today and you saw first time shooters, shooting suppress, first-time shooter shooting a machine gun. First time hands-on with this platform from this company. That’s my mission. I focus on that. Will I be able to combat what they’re doing? No, but I’m putting good media and good press and I’m putting my own marketing out there that I can control. So instead of sitting back and complaining about what they’re doing with their targeted marketing when it comes to the Black community, I also have to target my community and put the positive messages out there. That’s how I combat what they’re doing.]
Alain Stephens: Essentially it’s a form of exposure therapy. Jay wasn’t alone in his sentiments of trying to take the fear out of the image of a Black man carrying a gun in the broader American consciousness. And things like this event, and training seminars, and social media were ways for them to do it. When it comes to the broader gun industry and how they market, a lot of the attitude was not too dissimilar from the mantra: If you can’t beat em, join em. But perhaps with a caveat to change them from within. Throughout the day though, we had plenty of conversations about self defense, about the power of Black dollars, and it’s to get lost in the money to be had in this industry. But, a woman at the event named Krystal Harper reminded us of another reality: that Black people are also the most victimized by firearms.
[Krystal Harper: There’s a lot of trauma surrounding firearms within our community that just needs to be dealt with in addition to lack of knowledge, lack of history. But like, we don’t talk about that trauma.]
Alain Stephens: And we don’t talk about it. Gun violence in all forms has increased sharply for Black Americans in recent years. Black people now experience 12 times the gun homicides, 18 times the amount of shooting injuries, and nearly three times the fatal police shootings of their white counterparts. Luanda Akosua, a firearms trainer, says she sees the consequences of those statistics.
[Luanda Akosua: It happens a lot, you know, especially in certain areas. I know I get a nice percentage of my students that do have trauma. I actually had one girl who broke down, like anxiety, full anxiety attack on the range. But it’s just a matter of, kind of, coming at it from behind and being able to relate to them, because I’m able to relate, because I’ve also been in that situation.]
Alain Stephens: And many Black people can relate, our community is tight knit. Although we only account for about 13% of the population, we absorb a disproportionate amount of America’s gun violence. So this means that 71% of Black adults know someone who has been injured or killed by a gun in their lifetime.
[Luanda Akosua: After you’ve experienced trauma, I believe there’s a point in time where you have to say, ‘I am not gonna be a victim to this trauma,’ and I have to take measures into my own hands to be able to heal from this trauma, from the inside out — going inward, in healing, and starting that process. But you have to be the one to start that healing process. So at the end of the day, I think you are responsible for it. In a perfect world, we don’t want anyone, you know, of course the person that’s giving the trauma — but usually a person that’s presenting trauma, they don’t care about anyone.
Krystal Harper: At all.
Luanda Akosua: You know, they don’t care. So when they don’t care, you have to care about yourself, you know? And I think that’s the ultimate goal is being able to self-love, love yourself, respect yourself enough to come out of that dark space and … and train.]
Alain Stephens: For me as a reporter, and a Black gun owner, I’m always driven to this space, this fundamental conflict. Because on one side, the gun industry and the Second Amendment community needs to diversify to survive. But, on the other, the only way it can do so may mean facing down its racist past and the latent fears that fuel the industry. And with all the guns in the world, that prospect is still the scariest. On the next episode of The Gun Machine, we meet the man who wrote the playbook for a successful gun company.
John Bainbridge: He was somebody who I would say had enormous charisma, and incredible drive. Uh, but as I say, I wouldn’t trust him.
Alain Stephens: So after America secured its “freedom”, and it used weapons to secure its enslaved workforce: What next? Well, it’s time to expand. And with that, expands the gun machine.