PPRINT A GUN and Annette Evans probably doesn’t come to mind. She is Chinese-American, lives in suburban Philadelphia, and identifies as socially liberal, not the archetypal rural, conservative white male. Still, she owns more than a dozen rifles, pistols, and shotguns (“one for every occasion, like purses or shoes”) and teaches self-defense classes to women. Her race and gender put her at risk, she said. “There may be little chance that I will meet someone who kills me, but without a weapon, I will die.”
More gun owners, especially new ones, are looking like Mrs. Evans. According to a recent study by Matthew Miller of Northeastern University and his co-authors. The share of black adults who joined the ranks of gun owners, 5.3%, was more than double that of white adults. This is new: In a previous survey, in 2015, new buyers were biased toward whites and men, despite being more politically liberal than long-timers. Overall, gun owners today are still predominantly white (73%) and male (63%). But they are diversifying.
Gun culture has broadened its appeal. Decades ago, most people bought firearms for hunting and recreational shooting. Now they mostly do it for self-defense, which is a universal concern. People who feel vulnerable to crime or who have less confidence in the police are more likely to arm themselves.
Rising murder rates in 2020 and 2021 have heightened these anxieties (black people are the most likely victims). National African American Gun Association membership grew in 2020 by more than 25%, to 40,000. Black people have a long history of gun ownership: Harriet Tubman carried them, Martin Luther King kept them at home. But that tradition has long been “undercover,” says Aqil Qadir, a third-generation shooter who runs a firearms training center in Tennessee.
Many new gun owners see guns as an equalizer – a cure for the vulnerability they feel. The Pink Pistols, a LGBT group, proclaims that “gunned queers don’t get hit”. “God created man and woman, but Sam Colt made them equal,” says a shooter’s maxim. Gun ownership by women has always been lower than that of men: women tended to shoot because the men in the family did. But Robyn Sandoval, boss of A Girl and a Gun, a shooting group, sees more and more women buying guns on their own: a third of new entrants to her organization in 2021 said they were the only shooter in their family.
Tent widening is good for manufacturers and bad for gun control advocates. Owners are more politically active around gun issues than non-owners. Already, this may have had an effect. According to a poll by Gallup, in 2021 support for tougher laws fell five percentage points to its lowest level in seven years. ■
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This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Annette gets her guns”