Firearm purchases by a record number of Black Americans have accelerated a surge in gun sales since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis of government records.
The year 2021 is on track to be the second biggest on record for firearms sales, with more than 18 million guns purchased through November, consulting group Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting concluded. That would outpace every year except 2020, when 22.8 million guns were sold.
Black Americans are a big reason behind the surge, according to data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Black gun ownership increased 58.2% through the first six months of 2020, and the foundation expects that number to be similar for 2021, given the trends in purchases.
Overall, Blacks outpaced every other demographic in the increase of gun purchases in the first half of 2020, including Whites (51.9%), Hispanics (49.4%) and Asians (42.9%), the national organization said.
“The Second Amendment and gun rights have been the Black community’s right, and a lot of Black people are starting to realize it,” said Kourtney Redmond of the 761st Gun Club, a Black firearms education group based in the Chicago suburbs. “The police department and government isn’t going to save the Black community, and a lot of Black people are realizing the first line of defense is yourself.”
Mr. Redmond said his group expanded its membership by about 30% in 2021, the largest increase it has ever recorded.
Members of the 761st Gun Club cite rising crime and social upheaval as reasons they have sought firearms for their own protection, Mr. Redmond said. The biggest spikes in gun purchasing in 2020 were in March during the early days of the pandemic and in June, when protests over the police killing of George Floyd spilled into violence, according to FBI data.
“You see a rise in carjackings. You see a rise in violent crime in Chicago,” Mr. Redmond said. “You see this revolving door where [criminals] come in and come out. This area is not particularly strict on crime, but they are strict on gun laws. The gun laws are not working, and the Black community realized that they have to protect themselves.”
Nick Bezzel, founder of the Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt Pistol & Rifle Gun Club, a Black gun self-defense organization based in Central Texas, disputes the assertion that violent crime is driving Black gun ownership. He said he doesn’t expect the crime spike in 2021 to carry into 2022.
He said fears of civil unrest during the COVID-19 pandemic, violent clashes with police during social justice protests, and the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol are among the reasons Blacks are arming themselves at a record pace.
“It goes back to the fear of not knowing,” Mr. Bezzel said. “When you have a fear of not knowing, a lot of people need a way to defend themselves and their loved ones. The pandemic and Jan. 6 triggered those fears.”
He also said the number of hate crimes against Blacks is a factor in the gun ownership surge.
Mr. Bezzel declined to provide specific membership numbers for his club, but he said it has had “a large increase in inquiries” for applications and training to buy firearms in 2021.
Rep. Byron Donalds, Florida Republican, hailed the increase in gun ownership among fellow Blacks.
“The data is clear that more Americans, especially Black Americans and Black women, are choosing to purchase a gun and immerse in our nation’s long-standing gun culture,” he said. “Whether it’s for safety amongst the rise in violent crime, basic security of your loved ones or property, or as a hobby, owning a gun is a right granted by the U.S. Constitution, and it’s great to see more Americans take part in this right.”
Black Americans still represent a relatively small portion of the nation’s gun owners. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 9.3% of gun owners are Black men and 5.4% are Black women. White men account for 55.8% of gun owners, and 16.6% are White women.
Still, if the rise in gun purchases among Black Americans continues, those demographics could shift dramatically. It also could represent a whole new market for gun manufacturers.
“It’s becoming more and more difficult for gun control advocates to put people in a neat little box,” said Mark Oliva, public affairs director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “Today’s gun owner is more urban, younger and more representative of the different gun groups we have in America.”
The demographic shift also represents an opportunity for pro-Second Amendment politicians to court the Black vote. Traditionally, Republicans are more bullish on gun rights and Blacks typically vote for Democrats, who favor gun control.
Mr. Redmond and Mr. Bezzel said they will look at politicians who represent all of their interests, including Second Amendment rights, across both parties. Neither would say whether the trend in gun ownership could bring Black voters into the Republican Party.
“Whoever has our interest is who we will give our vote to,” Mr. Bezzel said. “The Black American vote has been taken advantage of for the last 60 years. We have to get out of our mindset of voting for one party. We have to vote for who has our best interests, not just the Second Amendment.”
• Haris Alic contributed to this report.