By Travis Pike
As a NRA-ordained firearms instructor I have had the ability to really see the diversity in gun ownership. I’ve also gotten to see a surprising amount of anti-gun sentiment. I also get lasered a lot and the profit margins are basically nonexistent so you better just enjoy teaching. But the purpose here isn’t to point out the flaws and idiosyncrasies of being a firearms trainer; the topic is the diversity in those seeking firearms training. Anecdotes don’t equate to scientific proof, but I can’t be the only firearms trainer out there to notice this trend.
From our positions as instructors, we can be the most reliable witnesses regarding the different people entering the firearms world. The mainstream media, those Moms who are always Demanding Action, and the 80’s goatee-equipped Ladd Everitt of the Coalition for some BS or other will proclaim gun owners are all fat, white, conservative males who are racist, misogynist, homophobic, and probably speciests too. But as someone who has been providing the training required for concealed carry here in Florida, I’ve had a front row view of those looking to ‘tool up.’
The best news is that the people looking to get their concealed carry permits is a very diverse group. Will they carry every day? Probably not, but maybe 10% of them will. Maybe the rest will at least carry occasionally. Either way, they are at least interested and invested enough to get some form of training and to get their concealed carry permit.
Exactly how diverse are they? These days it seems I have about as many women as I do men. Actually if I split my students from this year (2015), 40 percent of my students are females. Of all my students, 10% are minority women.
Minority men make up about 20 percent of my students and 100 percent of my minority students are black. This may be for a few reasons. First, I live in northwest Florida, and we have a smaller population density than most of the rest of the state. Our census reads like this; 55.0% White 40.1% African American, 0.5% Native American, 1.4% Asian and 2.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race is 2.2% of the population.
Here’s the breakdown of my students:
White males 40%
Black Males 20%
White females 30%
Black females 10%
Clearly the majority of my students are white, but there’s been a steady rise in the number of minorities attending my courses.
Coming up soon I have a seven person class scheduled with four black students. This will be the first minority majority class session. I’m not a sociologist, but it seems that after my first two black students (a personal friend and former coworker along with his 20-something nephew) more and more minorities are interested in taking the course. I think this is due to word of mouth from my friend and his nephew that there is an instructor in town.
I’d only ever advertised on gun forums and in my favorite gun stores. These places are perfect to reach People of the Gun, but not so much for those just looking for a gun for self defense and carry, not as a hobby. I learned I could advertise in different parts of town and attract a wider variety of clientele. Social media in particular has been the primary factor in attracting a more diverse group of people.
My dreams of uniting people of all creeds, races, and other categories under the mantle of personal freedom and gun-owning bliss have been dashed. I’ve come to see there are a lot of people who believe in self-defense. But a lot of them also believe in limited gun rights.
Most of my classes stay on track, but during breaks I get asked a lot of different questions. As you’d expect, GLOCK vs Smith & Wesson, what’s the best holster, etc. Sometimes, though, I get ‘political’ questions. I hear — primarily from women — that ‘assault’ weapons should be banned. I hear that no one needs more than ten rounds. Some wonder who needs anything more than a revolver. I lend guns to students who haven’t purchased one yet; a variety of pocket .380s, revolvers, small autos, big autos, etc.
I’m asked if these guns are registered, or where you go to register a new gun. Many are surprised to learn they don’t have to register a gun. Sometimes they can’t believe you don’t have to tell the government you own guns. I had one lady swear up and down that ‘assault’ rifles had to be registered.
Now remember, I’m providing a customer service and I don’t want the experience to turn them away from guns. So, needless to say, I have become quite good at being personable while correcting misconceptions and bad information while trying to turn people toward the side of freedom.
I’ve only run into outright racism once. The class was over and I was filling out the certificates. One of the ladies who was anti-‘assault rifle’, pro background checks, and pro registration came up to me and asked if I was really giving a certificate to a young black man who was in the class. While on the range he had loaded and made ready before he got on the line. A simple mistake for someone new to guns and range etiquette…no big deal. My assistant instructor spotted the mistake and had him unload and show clear.
I told the woman yes, the young man had passed, handed her the certificate and she headed on her way. It didn’t occur to me at first that she asked because he was black, had long hair, and wore a baggy shirt. I has assumed she thought he should fail for the mistake on the range. My assistant said she wasn’t near the line at the time he made the mistake, she had left the range after checking out with the AI and went to wait in the classroom.
So take this for what it is. A series of anecdotes isn’t conclusive, but in my opinion the stereotype of gun owners as the fat, old, white racist, women-hating, conservative men is quickly fading. In fact if more instructors took to advertising outside of traditional gun stores and forums, the diversity in their classes would grow significantly. I have taken flyers to my local women’s club, our park has a notice board, and several restaurants that allow advertisements for small businesses.
I’m hoping more women — and more people all races — seek to take their personal protection into their own hands. Hopefully these people will take gun ownership seriously and perhaps see the threat to and slow reduction of their own freedoms. I’m an optimist, though, and I know most of my students won’t suddenly become overnight 2A absolutists. If I have one student who votes a bit differently than they would have before they took my course, I count that as a win.