Gun ownership is most common among white men, particularly those who live in rural areas and those who describe themselves as conservative, according to the Pew Research Center and other surveys. According to a 2015 report by the non-partisan research group NORC at the University of Chicago, 39% of white adults said they lived in a household with a firearm while 18% of Black adults did. But Thompson says Black Americans in 2020 are being driven to gun shops for different reasons than white Americans—most of whom buy guns for more than one purpose, including for protection but also for hunting and sport shooting, according to the Pew survey. “How many white men are going to have guns pulled on them while they’re jogging?” Thompson says. “It’s a world of difference.”
Philip Smith, president of the National African American Gun Association, agrees. Shortly after Floyd’s death, about 3,800 new members joined the group, which already has about 35,000 active members, Smith says. His association has seen a 15% increase in membership since the same time last year, with an average of 1,000 new members joining each month. Smith says about 80% of its new members this year are first-time gun owners. “We’ve never had enrollment like that,” he says, adding that social unrest pushed people to the tipping point and is likely to continue doing so.
“Although the election is over, there’s still a lot of tension out there,” Smith says. “You can almost taste it out there, the friction.”