The black gun owner next door

Some identify as “gun-comfortable,” like the political scientist Jason Johnson, who attended the 2017 N.R.A. convention and concluded at The Root.com that the event stoked “white fear of imaginary terrorists, black thugs and immigrants.” Others are “super assertively pro-gun,” like Maj Toure, founder of Black Guns Matter. Mr. Toure is a member of the N.R.A., and he told me in a phone interview that there are many more black members who will speak of their involvement only in “hushed tones.” While he is critical of the N.R.A. for not doing more for urban Americans, he sees the group as an important civil rights organization.

In 2015, Philip Smith founded the National African-American Gun Association in Georgia. His members, he said, are predominantly first-time gun owners and educated professionals, “engineers, doctors, state workers, federal workers, stay-at-home moms.” While he has close ties to the N.R.A., Mr. Smith’s goal was to build a black association that was “self-governed, self-maintained, self-driven.” Today, Mr. Smith said, the N.A.A.G.A. has 75 chapters in 30 states. He expects to be in every state within a year.

Black gun owners are not a monolith, Mr. Smith stresses. “We have black Republicans, Democrats, gay, straight.” In what may come as a surprise to some, black women make up 60 percent of the association’s membership, according to the group. Women are the ones “driving our organization, driving gun sales,” he said. Even black gun owners preparing for natural or human-made disasters (“preppers”), which he estimates make up about 5 to 10 percent of N.A.A.G.A.’s membership, are growing in visibility.