Valerie Rupert, a 67-year-old grandmother from Detroit, is among 1,000 or so mostly Black women taking part in free weekend gun safety and shooting lessons at two Detroit-area ranges.
"I was a little nervous, but after I shot a couple of times, I enjoyed it," she told the Associated Press.
The uptick is driven in part by fear of crime, especially as shootings and murders have risen in cities big and small. But according to the report, a new motivator is the display of public anger in the last 15 months beginning with confrontations in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis under the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin.
Worries about the anger over COVID-19-related restrictions and the outrage over the outcome of the presidential 2020 election, driven by lies, are contributors, too. In Michigan, that anger led to a plot to kidnap the governor, as well as instances where armed protesters descended on the state Capitol.
In April 2020, hundreds of activists, including some who were openly carrying assault rifles, flocked to the Michigan Capitol in Lansing to denounce Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home order. Some demonstrators entered the building carrying guns, which is legal in the statehouse.
The sight of people, many of whom were White men, wearing body armor and holding guns at the Capitol still sticks with Rupert.
"They went up to the Capitol with all those guns. You need to be ready," she said.
About 8.5 million people in the U.S. bought their first gun in 2020, the National Shooting Sports Foundation says. The trade association for the firearms industry adds that gun purchases by Black men and Black women increased by more than 58% over the first six months of last year.
Gun ownership tends to increase when people lose faith in government and the police, said Daniel Webster, professor of American Health in Violence Prevention at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy.
"We’ve seen such an increase in white nationalist violence," Webster said. "Some combination of the lack in faith in police protecting you and hate groups has motivated a lot of Black people to arm up."
Black firearm owners still represent a relatively small portion of the gun-owning population, with 9.3% of gun owners being Black men and 5.4% Black women. Nearly 56% of U.S. gun owners are white men. Over 16% are white women, the Newtown, Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation says.
Still, 2020 saw "a tectonic shift in gun ownership in America" where there was "a huge increase of African Americans taking ownership of their Second Amendment rights," said Mark Oliva, its director of public affairs.
Beth Alcazar, who is white, got involved with shooting about two decades ago and says it was rare to see a Black woman taking target practice.
"Honestly, not more than one image pops up of seeing a Black woman at the range," said Alcazar, now a certified shooting instructor in the Birmingham, Alabama, area and U.S. Concealed Carry Association associate editor.
"With more involvement in the last five years, I see Black women on almost every occasion I go to the range," she said, adding that it’s exciting for women learning how to shoot to see other women, especially women of color.
For many Black women, it’s about taking care of themselves, said Lavette Adams, a licensed firearm instructor who participated in the free Detroit-area training sponsored by gun advocacy group Legally Armed In Detroit.
"Crime against women is nothing new. Women protecting themselves, that’s new," said Adams, who is Black.
That’s the premise behind the training that launched 10 years ago with 50 women attending. Last year, more than 1,900 participated, according to Rick Ector, Legally Armed in Detroit's founder, who says he started it "to bring awareness and training to women who are the favorite preferred targets of bad guys, rapists and killers."