In the age of Donald Trump and the new civil rights era where screams of Black Lives Matter can’t be too loud, more and more African-American women are getting licenses to arm themselves and are learning skills to defend themselves and loved ones.
“The June 30 killing of 18-year-old Bianca Roberson on a highway in Pennsylvania punctuates black females’ vulnerability to senseless violence during this time of heightened racial tension,” said Delores Jones-Brown, a professor of Criminal Justice at John Jay College in College who’s also an expert in police-community relations.
Jones-Brown is the founding director of the John Jay College Center on Race, Crime and Justice, having spent a decade training New York police officers on working with multicultural populations. She also sits on the board of the Center for Policing Equity, which promotes transparency by facilitating collaborations between law enforcement and social scientists.
“The available evidence suggest that Bianca was killed by an adult white male in an apparent episode of road rage,” Jones-Brown said. “The fact that just a short time ago George Zimmerman was able to gun down an unarmed black 18-year-old male in a residential community with impunity, suggests that there is no gender bias in young black peoples’ risk of random violence from killers outside of their racial group.”
While it’s difficult to find definitive statistics on gun ownership, a study released in July by the Pew Research Center in northwest D.C. indicated that just 16 percent of non-white women identified themselves as gun owners, compared with about 25 percent of white women.
However, other studies done by Pew in recent years have revealed a growing acceptance of firearms among African-Americans.
In 2012, one study found that less than one-third of black households viewed gun ownership as positive. Three years later, 59 percent of black families saw owning guns as a necessity.
Now, the latest study by gun-rights advocate and researcher John Lott has revealed that black women outpace other races and genders in securing concealed carry permits between 2000 and 2016 in Texas, one of the few states that keep detailed demographic information, according to The Associated Press.
“I plan to get [licensed to carry] in a few months to add just another level of protection for myself,” said Texas-based airline attendant Steffanie Rivers. “With so many news reports of people getting shot for needless issues, and states having ‘stand your ground’ laws, I want to be able to stand my ground and defend myself if I need to. And I want to be in compliance if the unfortunate incident occurs. I live where guns are widely used and owned by a lot of citizens. I need to be one of them.”
The Associated Press recently profiled a training session in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where about 20 students went over the basic safety lessons and instructions demonstrated by Marchelle Tigner, a domestic violence survivor and sexual assault victim who’s now a member of the National Guard.
Tigner said she wants to giver other women of color the training she hadn’t received.
“It’s important, especially for black women, to learn how to shoot. We need to learn how to defend ourselves,” she said.
During the class Tigner demonstrated proper stance and grip. She instructed students not to put a finger on the trigger until it’s time to shoot and to also keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
She plays to their protective instincts by telling them always to know what is beyond their target so they don’t accidentally shoot a young child or another innocent bystander.
After about an hour in the classroom, the women walked downstairs and into the Bull’s Eye Indoor Gun Range. Some flinched as the crack of gunfire blasted from a series of bays.
They were each shown how to load a magazine and given the chance to do it themselves — several of them struggling to get the bullets into the spring-loaded magazine with their long fingernails. Then they took turns firing a Glock 19 semi-automatic 9mm at targets about 5 yards down range.
“The bad guy’s dead. He’s not getting back up,” Tigner told one student who beamed with pride as they looked over a target riddled with bullet holes.
Back in New York, Jones-Brown said, when coupled with the recent deaths of black women and girls during police encounters, there’s little doubt that fear of violence and distrust in the justice system may be a part of the rise in gun ownership among African-American females.
“Purchasing a gun makes them feel less vulnerable,” she said, before adding a final sobering thought. “Time will tell if gun ownership will actually reduce their victimization.”