Black women who once hated guns are embracing them as violence rises


Peter Jamison, The Washington Post

via MSN - Jul 27, 2022


WELCOME, Md. — A 16th week had passed with no arrest in the murder of Patrice Parker’s son, another week in which she had struggled through grief for him and fear for herself and her surviving daughters.


It wasn’t just that the person who had turned a gun on 24-year-old Markelle Morrow was still at large, but that so many other armed criminals were as well.


 Shootings were ravaging the nation’s capital, on track for its highest number of homicides in two decades. In Prince George’s County, where Parker lives, carjackings had more than quadrupled since 2019.


But there was a place where she felt safe, and that was here, at a remote property amid thick woods an hour’s drive south of her home in District Heights, Md. And there was no time the 52-year-old felt safer than when holding a weapon like the one her friend Mark “Choppa” Manley now handed her: a 9mm pistol similar to those that regularly ring out in neighborhoods experiencing the worst of the region’s bloody summer.


“I’ve got some ammo for you,” Manley said, “when you’re ready.”


There was a time when Parker never would have been ready. During a long career as a nursing aide she had cared for countless shooting victims. Like many Black women in Southeast Washington or just across the D.C. border in Prince George’s County, she’d viewed guns for most of her life as the root of the violence that had wrecked countless lives in her community.


That changed, paradoxically, after her son was shot to death in a parking lot not far from her home. Exasperated with the police response and in despair over the sheer number of weapons on the streets, Parker decided there was only one way to protect what remained of her family. And that was to pick up a gun herself.


“I always felt like you needed to take the guns off the street. But the way things are now ...” Parker’s voice trailed off.


“I don’t feel safe anymore,” she said. “You can’t trust nobody.”


 Across America, Black women are taking up arms in unprecedented numbers. Research shows that first-time gun buyers since 2019 have been more likely to be Black and more likely to be female than gun purchasers in previous years, a finding that aligns with surveys of gun sellers.


Gun sales spiked across all demographic groups during the coronavirus pandemic, and remained high through the protests that followed the police murder of George Floyd, the attack on the U.S. Capitol and other events that many saw as signs of a nation in chaos. The National Rifle Association and other gun-industry lobbyists have long exploited such fears to boost sales of firearms and weaken the laws that restrict their use.


But Parker and others like her are part of a new chapter in the long-running story of America’s relationship with firearms. Scarred — sometimes literally — by the firsthand consequences of gun violence and disenchanted with decades of urban gun-control policies that they regard as largely ineffective, some Black women in D.C. and other cities are embracing a view long espoused by Second Amendment activists: that only guns will make them safer.


It is a development that could upend America’s gun-rights debate, traditionally seen as pitting largely White rural and suburban firearms owners against city residents, many of them Black, whose elected leaders have pursued some of the nation’s strictest gun-control policies.


Nearly 3 in 4 U.S. gun owners are still White, according to a study published by Harvard University researchers earlier this year. And while gun ownership has long been common in rural Black households, the surge of interest in firearms among urban Black women profoundly alarms experts on gun violence, who point to a large body of research demonstrating that gun possession is correlated with a greater — not lesser — risk of violent death. Rates of suicide, the cause of most gun deaths every year, go up when a weapon is in the house, as does the likelihood of accidental death and murder by another household member.


“There is no category of violence where we have evidence to show more firearms increase safety,” said Shani A.L. Buggs, an assistant professor with the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California at Davis.


Yet Buggs, a Black woman who previously worked on community violence interventions in Baltimore, acknowledged that a stack of academic papers might not be convincing for a woman who regularly hears gunfire on her street and lives in terror for herself or her children. That is especially the case, she noted, in places like Southeast D.C. or District Heights, where trust in police is often as low as violent crime is high.


 “This phenomenon flies in the face of the scientific evidence that we have,” Buggs said. “But it all sadly, tragically, is a predictable outcome of all of these different factors that have been converging.”


Those factors had converged for Parker as she stepped to the firing line on a Sunday in July at the Choppa Community, a Southern Maryland gun range and gathering place for Black firearms enthusiasts. She held a Ruger PC Charger pistol with an extended magazine. She wore a sleeveless black blouse, and a button with the face of her murdered son.


Parker took aim and fired about two dozen rounds at a set of steel targets.


When she laid the gun down, she was smiling.


“I feel a little bit better already,” she said.


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