By Christianna Silva
Bruce Tomlin, a 63-year-old truck driver from New Mexico, said he was never really a “gun person.” Then he saw a video of three white men following and fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery while he was jogging.
“The man is trying to get away and they’re just gunning him down in the street like he was a dog,” Tomlin said about watching the video of Arbery. “It’s made me hypervigilant. It has made me nervous. I’ll even admit to being a little bit scared sometimes.”
So he bought a gun. And he’s planning on buying more.
“I just feel like in my viewpoint, every Black person in America, especially Black males, needs to have some type of protection with them as often as [they] can, because I think the political climate [is] getting to the point where it’s just going to be a lot of violence coming our way,” Tomlin said. “I just feel safer now having a gun. And I didn’t always feel that way. I’ve never been the world’s biggest fan of guns, but I just don’t feel safe without one.”
In early June, NPR reached out to Black Americans to ask about their personal experiences in this country. Nearly 500 people responded, some of whom described wanting to buy — or decidedly not wanting to buy — firearms for self-defense in response to the recent fight for racial justice.
Tomlin is one of many Black Americans who recently bought firearms for the first time, faced with a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and the fight for racial justice.
“The highest overall firearm sales increase comes from Black men and women, who show a 58.2% increase in purchases during the first six months of 2020 versus the same period last year,” Jim Curcuruto, the National Shooting Sports Foundation director of Research and Market Development, wrote in a report, according to AOL News. “Bottom line is that there has never been a sustained surge in firearm sales quite like what we are in the midst of.”
Philip Smith, the president of the National African American Gun Association, said that he had a massive influx of members in two waves: Once, in 2016, following President Donald Trump’s election, and again during the recent racial justice protests. He said a year ago, NAAGA was getting maybe 10 new members a day; now, its seeing 10 new members an hour. He said there are many factors pushing Black people to buy firearms, including “the politics right now, the pandemic and the racial tone: Those three things together act as kind of a three-headed monster that is driving folks to come to us.”