Concerns about violence, crime and the pandemic have prompted Americans, especially people of color and women, to arm themselves with firearms for the first time, according to Redstone Firearms owner Jonathan Solomon.
“In the Black community, we’ve been so anti-gun that now, the tide has changed tremendously. Those who were historically anti-gun are now asking the question, ‘How do I get a firearm?'” the Burbank business owner said.
Solomon said that while a majority of gun owners are still primarily white and male, the gun culture has diversified and no longer caters to just recreational shooters or hunters.
Gun purchases soared during the pandemic, and Black Americans and women continue to drive those record-breaking numbers with the boost in gun sales nationally, especially among first-time firearms owners.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, women accounted for 40% of all gun purchases in 2020, and that year, purchases by African Americans increased by 56% compared to the year before.
Chris Cheng with the Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association said recent hate crimes against Asian Americans ignited the gun ownership surge within this population.
“It comes down to this question: Who’s responsible for our own personal safety? And for a lot of people, the answer is, ‘I am,'” Cheng said.
Those who have lost loved ones to gun violence, however, have a different opinion.
Jessica Validiva, whose 27-year-old brother Ernesto Jimenez was shot nearly two dozen times in Pasadena in 2020, noted that this increase in firearms ownership means more weapons on the streets. Jimenez’s shooting is still unsolved.
“It’s painful. It’s really painful,” she said. “We should have more control on guns, to check their records. Who is the best person to have a gun?”
Solomon said it’s “absolutely … a valid concern” to worry about guns ending up in the wrong hands.
“It’s the same thing as what if someone steals my car and uses it as a weapon and kills someone,” he said.
New gun owners like Oni Powell argue that they’ve undergone thorough background checks and detailed firearm training, both inside and outside the classroom.
And with some police departments scaling back personnel on streets, “we have to be diligent and we have to know that our safety is first and foremost,” Powell said.
Powell argued that those who choose to arm themselves aren’t irresponsible gun-toting individuals walking around as if they’re in the wild wild west. Instead, they believe they live in communities under siege.
“This isn’t Hollywood. Times have changed,” she said.
But Validiva, whose brother was shot right outside their family home, said his memorial along the sidewalk she passes every day is a constant reminder of how one bullet can be enough to change lives.
“My heart is broken,” she said.