© 2022 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
KSOR Header background image 1
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

These are the faces of the rising number of Black gun owners in the U.S.

Aaron Banks, 38, and his son Aaron Banks, Jr., 8, embrace at a local park on Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Cedar Park, Texas. "The image of the average gun enthusiast needs an update," the elder Banks said. Banks is president of Keep Firing LLC and one of 24 pistol instructors certified by the National African American Gun Association.
Christian K. Lee
Aaron Banks, 38, and his son Aaron Banks, Jr., 8, embrace at a local park on Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Cedar Park, Texas. "The image of the average gun enthusiast needs an update," the elder Banks said. Banks is president of Keep Firing LLC and one of 24 pistol instructors certified by the National African American Gun Association.

Black gun ownership in America dates back to before the country's founding.

Firearms helped aid Nat Turner's rebellion against white enslavers.

Harriet Tubman famously carried her pistol along the Underground Railroad.

Civil rights leaders felt it was necessary to arm themselves against potential racial violence: from journalist Ida B. Wells insisting that every Black home be equipped with a Winchester rifle ... to Martin Luther King, Jr. trying to obtain a concealed carry license.

And in recent years, more Black Americans are buying guns.

Chicago-based photographer Christian Lee wanted to present a specific picture of Black gun ownership. He called his project "Armed Doesn't Mean Dangerous."

And he set out to photograph Black gun owners in his hometown.

Angela Ross Williams, 67, in her living room on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, in Chicago. Williams says she needs her firearm because there is a lot of crime in Chicago, which stems from a lack of housing, food, jobs and access to mental health facilities.
/ Christian K. Lee
/
Christian Lee
Angela Ross Williams, 67, in her living room on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, in Chicago. Williams says she needs her firearm because there is a lot of crime in Chicago, which stems from a lack of housing, food, jobs and access to mental health facilities.

Many African Americans in urban communities have shown interest in the Second Amendment due to a need for survival, rather than an obsession with guns.

"There is a higher crime rate when people cannot work and earn," says Chicago resident Angela Ross Williams. The 67-year-old became a gun owner out of necessity to protect herself from crime in the city. Angela says that she's experienced slow police response times, which has lowered her trust in local law enforcement to protect her against crime.

Chuck Chew, 36, sits on his bed with his firearm Wednesday, June 29, 2022, in Chicago. Chew provides professional bodyguard services to clients who prefer him dressed in plain clothes in order to blend into the community. "You look at a person like me and they think, 'Here is a thug,' and that is not the case," Chew says.
/ Christian K. Lee
/
Christian Lee
Chuck Chew, 36, sits on his bed with his firearm Wednesday, June 29, 2022, in Chicago. Chew provides professional bodyguard services to clients who prefer him dressed in plain clothes in order to blend into the community. "You look at a person like me and they think, 'Here is a thug,' and that is not the case," Chew says.
Angelique Marshall-Harris, 52, left, and her husband, Costia Harris, 56, sit on their couch on Monday, July 11, 2022, in Burnham, Ill. The dynamics of their family changed once Costia underwent dialysis treatment. Angelique realized that her husband would have difficulty defending their house in the case of an intruder. "I'm going to have his back," she said.
/ Christian K. Lee
/
Christian Lee
Angelique Marshall-Harris, 52, left, and her husband, Costia Harris, 56, sit on their couch on Monday, July 11, 2022, in Burnham, Ill. The dynamics of their family changed once Costia underwent dialysis treatment. Angelique realized that her husband would have difficulty defending their house in the case of an intruder. "I'm going to have his back," she said.

The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence supports Williams' claim. Its research concludes that the root cause of gun violence is poverty and lack of opportunity, among other factors.

African Americans have used firearms throughout history to defend against the woes of racism and poverty.

Justin Barlow, 34, left, gazes at his wife, Cha'von Barlow, 33, outside their home on Saturday, June 18, 2021, in Round Rock, Texas. "I never want my family to feel powerless," Justin said. He was introduced to guns when he was 14 years old through hunting. He later introduced his wife to guns. "In my absence, my wife and children will be safe," he said.
/ Christian K. Lee
/
Christian Lee
Justin Barlow, 34, left, gazes at his wife, Cha'von Barlow, 33, outside their home on Saturday, June 18, 2021, in Round Rock, Texas. "I never want my family to feel powerless," Justin said. He was introduced to guns when he was 14 years old through hunting. He later introduced his wife to guns. "In my absence, my wife and children will be safe," he said.
Leta Harrison, 39, stands with her firearm on Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Pflugerville, Texas. Harrison began training with her firearm after experiencing domestic violence. "I never want to be that scared of anyone ever again," she said. She said she doesn't want to be viewed as a victim, and so she's proactive about exercising her Second Amendment rights.
/ Christian K. Lee
/
Christian Lee
Leta Harrison, 39, stands with her firearm on Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Pflugerville, Texas. Harrison began training with her firearm after experiencing domestic violence. "I never want to be that scared of anyone ever again," she said. She said she doesn't want to be viewed as a victim, and so she's proactive about exercising her Second Amendment rights.
Brandon Antone, 37, stands outside of his apartment complex with his firearm on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. Antone started a Facebook group with nearly 2,000 members in the Austin area with the goal of creating a safe space for African Americans to talk about firearms. "I noticed when I go to the range it wasn't a lot of us there, so I wanted to create a place we could talk about guns," he said.
/ Christian K. Lee
/
Christian Lee
Brandon Antone, 37, stands outside of his apartment complex with his firearm on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. Antone started a Facebook group with nearly 2,000 members in the Austin area with the goal of creating a safe space for African Americans to talk about firearms. "I noticed when I go to the range it wasn't a lot of us there, so I wanted to create a place we could talk about guns," he said.

In 1921, a group of armed Black World War I veterans came to the aid of a community member who was in danger of being lynched by an angry white mob at the Tulsa County Courthouse. The veterans were asked to leave by the sheriff. But the site of armed Black residents enraged the mob so much that a fight ensued, leading to the start of the Tulsa Race massacre.

Decades later, in 1967, California introduced the Mulford Act, which targeted members of the Black Panther Party. The members had been conducting neighborhood armed patrols they said were meant to protect Black communities from police brutality, as described by Bobby Seale in 1968.

Stephanie Riley, 38, inside her home on Saturday, June 25, 2022, in Chicago. Riley is a firearm instructor with 10 years of experience. Her employer first required her to own a firearm, but she soon realized she could use it for her own self-protection.
/ Christian K. Lee
/
Christian Lee
Stephanie Riley, 38, inside her home on Saturday, June 25, 2022, in Chicago. Riley is a firearm instructor with 10 years of experience. Her employer first required her to own a firearm, but she soon realized she could use it for her own self-protection.
Alisa Coleman, 25, left, embraces Sharise Campbell, 26, after their date at a local gun range. "I've seen people get shot, so I don't like guns, however we understand it's for protection," Coleman said. Although Coleman and Campbell are a couple, their view of guns are different; both agree, however, that gun ownership is necessary to protect their family.
/ Christian Lee
/
Christian Lee
Alisa Coleman, 25, left, embraces Sharise Campbell, 26, after their date at a local gun range. "I've seen people get shot, so I don't like guns, however we understand it's for protection," Coleman said. Although Coleman and Campbell are a couple, their view of guns are different; both agree, however, that gun ownership is necessary to protect their family.
Tiana Tucker, 41, sits inside her mother's home on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Chicago. Tucker is a conceal carry firearm instructor. "With the new wave of violence and crime, it's necessary to protect yourself," she said.
/ Christian K. Lee
/
Christian Lee
Tiana Tucker, 41, sits inside her mother's home on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Chicago. Tucker is a conceal carry firearm instructor. "With the new wave of violence and crime, it's necessary to protect yourself," she said.

Vanessa Leroy photo edited this story.

Follow Christian K. Lee on Instagram: @chrisklee_jpeg

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Christian K. Lee
Ciera Crawford
Ciera Crawford is Deputy Culture Editor on the Culture Desk. Prior to this role, she was a supervising producer at All Things Considered. She joined the show in October 2019 as the update producer who helps keep the show fresh for later feeds. Crawford previously worked at Westwood One News in Washington, D.C., where she worked as the overnight executive editor, and later as the morning drive assignment editor. There she wrote for anchors and hosts, assigned stories, pitched story ideas and edited copy, while producing special report coverage for big breaking stories such as the North Korea summits and the mass shootings in New Zealand and Las Vegas, as well as political stories including the 2018 midterms and 2016 presidential election. She is an alumna of Virginia State University. Outside the office, she enjoys sports (Go Celtics!), spending time with her wife and four dogs, and all things pop culture.