These are the faces of the rising number of Black gun owners in the U.S. : The Picture Show Black gun ownership dates back to before the country's founding. In "Armed Doesn't Mean Dangerous," photographer Christian K. Lee captures the growing number of Black Americans who own firearms.

These are the faces of the rising number of Black gun owners in the U.S.

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AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Black gun ownership in America goes back centuries. Firearms helped aid Nat Turner's rebellion against white enslavers. Harriet Tubman famously carried her pistol along the Underground Railroad. Later, civil rights leaders felt it was necessary to arm themselves against potential racial violence, from journalist Ida B. Wells insisting that every Black home be equipped with a Winchester rifle to Martin Luther King Jr., who tried to obtain a concealed carry license. And in recent years, more Black Americans are buying guns.

Chicago-based photographer Christian Lee wanted to present a specific picture of Black gun ownership. He called his project "Armed Doesn't Mean Dangerous," and he set out to photograph Black gun owners in his hometown. You can see those pictures on npr.org. When I spoke to Christian Lee earlier, he told me that he found some of the people to photograph for this project at gun ranges.

CHRISTIAN LEE: Yeah. I always tell people one of the hardest things to do is to walk into a white gun range and ask, hey, where is your Black gun owners?

CHANG: (Laughter).

LEE: And interesting enough, you know, those people were very helpful to me, you know? And I found - I ended up finding one owner that introduced me to another owner. And then I just found myself immersed into - in the community. I really wanted to make sure that I was hearing directly from the mouths of people instead of what I was seeing on TV.

CHANG: I am curious, Christian, are you, yourself, a gun owner? Did you grow up learning how to shoot guns?

LEE: So interesting story. I grew up in a household where my father was a Vietnam-era veteran. And he was a Chicago-area police officer. However, we lived in one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Chicago. So it wasn't until I joined the military and moved to Texas that I actually saw firearms be used in a positive way. The Army is what put the gun in my hand for the first time, right? But it was living in Texas, not necessarily the Army, that I actually saw hunters, that I actually saw, you know, people that just wanted to protect their home, which is directly opposite to what I saw in TV and news in Chicago, where I saw was mostly depicted as criminals. And I set off to conduct my own research to determine why.

CHANG: Can you describe this photography project? Because people who are listening may not have a chance to look at these photos (laughter) - right? - as they're listening to us.

LEE: Yup.

CHANG: Maybe describe, like, one photo that you feel is particularly emblematic?

LEE: There's an image - so most of the images I take - I made portraits using a 4-by-5 camera. And it was one image that I took, it was in a forest with the gun owner and his son. And he's, you know, holding his son near him. The father and the son is embracing. You could see that this firearm is almost being, like, passed down in a responsible manner. Those were the images that I was not seeing growing up in my hometown. I wanted to make sure I expanded the archive of African American gun ownership in our country.

CHANG: That is Chicago-based photographer Christian Lee talking about his new project called "Armed Doesn't Mean Dangerous." You can see the people he's been telling us about at npr.org. Thank you so much, Christian.

LEE: Thank you for having me.

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