Black People Are The Fastest-Growing Group Of Gun Owners In The U.S.
PAIGE: Hi. This is Paige. I'm a mental health therapist in Washington, D.C., and I'm sitting here with my beagle, Beans (ph). My husband and I adopted Beans in March of 2020 from the same rescue shelter in Virginia that is currently helping to rescue 4,000 beagles from lab testing. We love Beans so much and are so happy these 4,000 beagles are getting a second chance at life, too. This podcast was recorded at...
SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
It is 1:09 Eastern on Monday, July 18.
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(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
DETROW: I was hoping for an aroo (ph) from Beans there. But I guess, you know. Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.
DETROW: And today, we've also got Alana Wise with us. Hey, Alana.
ALANA WISE, BYLINE: Hey, y'all. Thank you.
DETROW: Alana reports on race for NPR. And you're here with us today because we're going to talk about Americans and guns. And you just published a really interesting story about that. Big picture, we've been talking a lot about guns and gun culture and gun violence on the podcast the last couple months. And that's for a few reasons. There's been a stretch of horrific mass shootings. President Biden recently signed the first bipartisan gun law in a generation. And also, the Supreme Court recently issued a major gun ruling.
So a third of Americans say they own at least one gun. And, Alana, the story you did was about the really growing share of Black gun owners in America. And first, before we get into that, I think it is fair to probably say that when we talk about gun rights as a political issue, I think a lot of people initially, typically think of conservative white gun owners, probably conservative white males. And you did a lot of reporting on the fact that this is much more nuanced than that.
WISE: When you look at the typical - or stereotypical, rather - gun-owning population, you think of very rural, very white, very conservative people, especially white males. One thing that we found in reporting out this story is that Black people very often have found themselves at odds with that population and at odds with what that population very often represents in this country.
Historically, gun ownership has been frowned upon by Black Americans, by the state at large, not only by Republicans, not only by Democrats. The NRA has joined in on this. And we've seen federal policy, state-level policy that has been intentional on trying to keep Black people from having guns. But research has shown that Black Americans not only own a fair share of guns in the country, but they are the fastest-growing group of gun purchasers in America. Gun purchases by Black Americans rose almost 60% in the first half of 2020, which I think is really interesting and really breaks down a lot of the misconceptions about who owns guns here.
MONTANARO: And what we found in our poll that we recently did with Ipsos is that the vast majority of Black gun owners actually say they own firearms to protect their family, which is in line with a lot of other gun owners. Fewer of them, though, say that they cite cultural reasons like hunting and sports shooting. But that's true generally of Democratic gun owners, which Black gun owners fall more in line with Democrats.
DETROW: And, Alana, you talked to a lot of Black gun owners. What were the reasons that you heard for why they wanted to own weapons and why so many more Black Americans have been buying guns recently?
WISE: So it's exactly as you all stated. Very often, Black people in this country have been objectively left behind by a lot of the safety measures put together by the state. And when you look at gun ownership and the history of gun ownership, owning guns was a way for Black people - as it was for all people but specifically Black people - to protect themselves from a state in which they felt that the systems had failed them. They felt that there has not been a mechanism in place to protect them.
When you look at situations like Philando Castile, for example, who was a legal gun owner, he was pulled over by police. He followed all of the protocol as outlined by gun organizations, including the NRA, to inform the officer that he was carrying a gun, to inform the officer that he meant to do that person no harm, and just to let them know that he had a gun. And yet still he was shot to death by police in an incident that was caught both on body cam and Mr. Castile's girlfriend later recorded and uploaded it to Facebook Live.
DETROW: I mean, do high-profile moments like that make Black gun owners more ambivalent or more concerned or more determined, saying, you know what? I have this right to defend myself.
WISE: Yeah, I certainly wouldn't say ambivalent. As I found in my reporting, a lot of gun owners cited the unrest that we've seen in the past several years, when you look at the unrest that came about after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the sort of general unrest. So you see people buying guns mostly to protect themselves, to protect their interests, to protect their families.
DETROW: And another thing you touched on in the story was some important context, you know, the fact that Black Americans are much more likely to be victims of gun violence than the national average.
WISE: Yeah. So there's - you know, for years there's been the really unfortunate statistic that not only are Black people more likely to be killed by the state, they're also more likely to be killed in their own communities, in their own environments as a result of firearms. In fact, the CDC last year saw U.S. gun deaths rise something like 35%, which was the highest level since the mid-'90s. And Black men and Black boys, unfortunately, from the ages of 10 to 24, were much more likely, by a rate of about 21 times as likely as white males, to die by firearm homicide than white males.
MONTANARO: You know, it's really fascinating when we talk about the NRA, for example, because this has turned into actually a pretty controversial group not just nationally, but even among gun owners. And what we see is that conservative gun owners, Republicans, mostly white gun owners, have pretty high faith in the NRA - hugely different when it comes to Black gun owners, who really have a significant level of distrust toward this group.
DETROW: When you talk about historic trends, of policies put in place to keep guns out of the hands of Black people, is there a really good, specific example that kind of gets to that clear goal for a policy?
WISE: Absolutely. When you look in the 1960s in California - and I think very often people picture California as sort of this liberal oasis, depending on which side of the aisle you are on, but in the 1960s, California was the birthplace of the Black Panther movement and, in 1967, the Mulford Act, which was put into place, which is basically to stop Black Panther members from being able to openly carry firearms in the street. They were conducting what they called these neighborhood patrols, where they were basically roaming their neighborhoods in an effort to keep them safe from police who were attempting to basically stomp on the constitutional rights of the people who lived there. And the Black Panther Party saw themselves and saw arming themselves as a way to protect themselves and their community against that.
DETROW: We're going to take a quick break. When we get back, we'll talk more about Alana's reporting and also more on the broader politics of gun ownership.
We are back. And one thing to point out is that - and I think a lot of Black gun owners probably don't map cleanly onto the polarized political landscape that we think about. You know, Black people are a key component of the Democratic coalition, the people who put Joe Biden in office. But the party is - and this has just gotten more of the case over the years - in favor of tighter gun safety laws.
MONTANARO: You know, what I find interesting here, when we looked at Black gun owners in our poll with Ipsos, you know, they come down very differently, not just than conservative white gun owners but also when it comes to Latinos, for example. You know, Black gun owners own fewer guns on average, only about three compared to six for conservative white gun owners. And they think controlling gun violence is more important than protecting gun rights. And we saw that Hispanic gun owners and white conservative gun owners actually were in favor more of feeling like they needed to protect gun rights. So I think that's - it's fairly interesting that they kind of skew more left on the spectrum and break with Latinos, for example.
WISE: One thing that I also think is interesting is that when you think about white conservative gun owners, very often you're picturing them - and rightfully so - in much more rural areas where things like sports hunting, shooting for sport are much more popular. Whereas for a lot of Black people and a lot more of the American population in general, these are city-dwelling and much less rural-dwelling populations. So the question of public safety and being able to personally protect themselves is much different than being able to go out and shoot for sport or for food or whatever the case may be.
MONTANARO: And politically, I mean, that's why you see a huge chasm that has emerged, you know, not just between the races but based on place, right? We've talked about place, not race repeatedly when it comes to politics. And that's certainly true when it comes to values around guns and why you own a gun in the first place. And when people are growing increasingly less likely to know anybody who is of a different political bent, then it makes it less likely to be able to bridge those divides.
DETROW: Well, I'm curious, as you were reporting this story, we just saw this string of mass shootings over and over and over again. And, of course, the broader trend line in the United States of just a vast increase in all sorts of gun violence. And I'm wondering if those trends came up in conversations and what the people you talked to who own guns and want to own guns said about that?
WISE: Absolutely. I think that one thing that's very interesting - and I found this in my reporting, I found this anecdotally in conversations that I've heard people having around the dinner table - is that, by and large, Black people do not feel themselves to be the perpetrators of these mass shootings, these incidents where people are storming a grocery store or an elementary school or a high school or whatever the case may be. While gun violence is absolutely a problem that crosses the racial divide, when you see incidents that grip the public attention, these mass shootings, these are very seldom carried out by Black actors. And in conversations that I've had in my reporting specifically, that fact has made Black people especially more in tune to the fact that the state is not something that's going to protect them. I spoke to a member of the Huey P Newton Gun Club named Jabir Asa who pointed to the historic disarmament of Black people. And he also pointed to the shooting at the Tops grocery store, the shooting at the elementary school in Uvalde and basically said if the police aren't going to protect us, if there are people who are meant to do us harm, we will instead take it upon ourselves to protect ourselves in the best way we can.
DETROW: Is it fair or unfair to say that sounds a lot like a lot of the predominantly white and conservative militias who have similar reasons for gun ownership?
WISE: I would steer away from saying fair or unfair, but I do think that it's interesting that some of the language is the same. However, the justification at the root is not necessarily so. For example, after the January 6 insurrection, there were many conversations held on social media, held on dinner tables across the country that had it been a number of Black Americans who had stormed the Capitol armed to the teeth, would the outcome have been one person killed? Versus militias, when you look at Bundy, who has held these shootouts with federal officers and the outcome has been a number of people led away safely in handcuffs, when we think about fair and unfair, I think that that's not necessarily an even comparison. But I do think that when people are having these conversations, I do think that it's reasonable and justifiable to sit down and consider whether or not they have reason to believe that they are behaving justly in wanting to arm themselves to protect themselves.
MONTANARO: But there's definitely this throughline of distrust of government and distrust of authority when it comes to gun owners overall, right? I mean, we saw that in our survey overall, people just saying that they don't trust the federal government to make decisions that look out for them and, as was noted, for very different reasons.
DETROW: Right. And, Alana, as you're pointing out, there are dozens and dozens and dozens of historical facts that you can fill in the blank of in saying this is a justification for that point of view.
WISE: Exactly. Exactly. So, you know, the question of fair and unfair, it's an interesting one, but I don't know if it's one that necessarily will line up perfectly. Even crossing beyond guns, when you look at a number of issues in which Black voters who are - overwhelmingly vote Democrat, the justifications for social issues, be it gay marriage, be it abortion, the language will sometimes line up, but the historical precedent isn't always the same.
DETROW: All right. Alana Wise, thank you so much for joining the podcast today and bringing this reporting to it.
WISE: Thanks for having me.
DETROW: I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.
MONTANARO: I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.
DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
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