Gun sales to blacks, minorities surge after Trump's win
Texas gun store owner Michael Cargill fires a handgun at a shooting range. Courtesy of Michael Cargill
BY BEN POPKEN, NBC News
(NBC News) - After Donald Trump's win, Yolanda Scott is upgrading the crowbar she keeps in her purse to a small-caliber pistol.
Scott, an African-American, is one of many minorities who have been flocking to gun stores to protect themselves, afraid Trump's victory will incite more hate crimes.
"You feel that racists now feel like they can attack us just because the president is doing it," one gun shop owner told NBC News.
Gun store owners told NBC News that since November 8 they're seeing up to four times as many black and minority customers — and black gun groups are reporting double the normal number of attendees at their meetings since the election.
Racial tension was already at a high during the election, with a spate of videoed shootings and deaths of black men by police officers, followed by ardent protests and the fatal targeting of white police officers.
In one high-profile incident, the live-streamed aftermath of the shooting of Philando Castile at a traffic stop at the hands of police in Minnesota sparked country-wide outrage and was ruled manslaughter. That and another death in Louisiana sparked a protest in Dallas, which a sniper took advantage of to kill five police officers.
"YOU FEEL THAT RACISTS NOW FEEL LIKE THEY CAN ATTACK US JUST BECAUSE THE PRESIDENT IS DOING IT."
From Ferguson to Chicago to Baltimore, African-Americans felt targeted and angry, sending marchers into the streets and communities on edge.
And Donald J. Trump's surprise victory in November has done nothing to abate the racial violence — it even seems to have encouraged more open displays of hatred. More than 700 instances have already been reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center just since November 8, and LGBT hotlines are seeing an "all-time peak" in calls from people reporting harassment.
Swastikas have been found spray-painted on churches, playgrounds, and college walls. White Texas high school students chanted "Build that wall" during a volleyball game with a predominantly Hispanic rival school. Internet personality and model Tila Tequila was suspended from Twitter after she was photographed giving a "Heil Hitler" sign at a restaurant following the post-election gathering in Washington, D.C., of the National Policy Institute, an "alt-right" organization.
"It's best that I be proactive," said Scott, a fiery 49-year-old financial analyst. "I know where I live."
She's from Alpharetta, Georgia. It borders Forsyth County, which in 1912 systematically drove out nearly all its black residents for the next quarter century. After two alleged attacks on white women, a black suspect was lynched and two more were hanged after a short trial. Armed bands of whites began terrorizing blacks, torching homes and churches in night raids, firing through the door, telling them it was time to "get" [out of America] and then seized their homes and land. As recently as 1987 the county saw the marching of 5,000 white supremacists.
Scott still sees racist bumper stickers and large Confederate flags flying from the backs of pickup trucks when she ventures across the county line there to go outlet mall shopping. And she pauses to wonder what motivates her white neighbor to tuck a handgun in his pants before driving to the grocery store.
October saw 2.3 million FBI background checks for gun sales, an all-time record; and the 18th month in a row to set a new high. November could be on pace to break that.
But while gun company stocks and firearm sales saw a run-up before the election — based on fears a Hillary Clinton victory would result in increased gun-control measures — shares in gun companies fell as much as 20 percent after Trump's win.
So, while store owners say that traffic is up overall, the new rush of minority customers arming themselves is something of an unexpected glimmer for the industry.
"They thought Trump won't win," said Earl Curtis, the 53-year-old owner of two Blue Ridge Arsenal gun stores and shooting ranges in western Virginia who has noticed an "uptick" in the number of black and minority customers.
Largely, says Curtis, they're "shell-shocked" first-time shooters looking to get a handgun to protect themselves from "race riots and being attacked by racists" — afraid that what Trump and his supporters have already done is just the beginning.
Trump already had a checkered past with the black community. Though he once donated office space to Jesse Jackson's civil rights group and hosted a NAACP party, he was also sued by the Justice Department in 1975 for refusing to rent to black people. Trump countersued for defamation, demanding $100 million, and the case was settled without admission of guilt.
In 1978, he was sued again by the Justice Department for denying rentals to black people and steering them into mixed-race housing. The case was closed in 1982.
Seven years later, he took out full-page ads to suggest the death penalty for black suspects in a rape trial who years later were released after the introduction of new DNA evidence.
His position doesn't seem to have softened since then.
On the campaign trail this year, Trump hired Steve Bannon, the executive editor of Breitbart, a far-right news website the Southern Poverty Law Center called a "white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill." Bannon has since been named chief strategist and Senior Counselor for the Trump administration.
In a February TV interview, Trump blamed his failure to condemn the Ku Klux Klan's support on a "bad earpiece."
After he suggested African-American protesters should be "roughed up," attacks on minority protesters at his rallies followed.
Even Trump's Twitter slam last weekend on the Broadway musical Hamilton is ringing alarm bells for minorities. After Vice-President-elect Mike Pence's attendance was met with boos and cheers in the audience, a cast member read a short speech to Pence at the curtain call. Trump blasted the show in several tweets and demanded an apology. Trump supporters lobbed their own negative tweets and sent two different "boycott Hamilton" hashtags trending.
For anxious minorities, it's yet another foreboding sign of how Trump can whip up his fans to magnify and echo messages of intolerance. And when they compare his full-throated denunciation of a piece of musical theater to his garbled, terse, and delayed disavowals of the support by white supremacists, they see a wink and a nod, and fear it's a nudge.
"MOST FOLKS ARE PRETTY NERVOUS ABOUT WHAT KIND OF AMERICA WE'RE GOING TO SEE OVER THE NEXT 5-10 YEARS. EVERYONE HAS TO FEND FOR THEMSELVES."
Michael Cargill, the owner of Central Texas Gun Works in Austin, told NBC News he had given up on advertising to African-Americans — but now he's seeing as many as 20 a month, and they're filling up his training classes; along with Muslim, Hispanic, and LGBT patrons with heightened worries about being targeted.
Black gun owner groups are seeing an uptick too, led by African-American women. They report receiving an increased number of emails from across the country from concerned minorities looking to learn more about gun safety, training, and firearm access.
Philip Smith, founder of the 14,000-member National African American Gun Association said his members are buying up every kind of gun, from Glock handguns to AR-15 rifles to AK-47 semi-automatic weapons — though most first-time buyers gravitate toward a nine-millimeter pistol or .38 revolver. He said that twice the usual attendees have RSVP'd for the next meeting of the Georgia chapter, which he heads.
"Most folks are pretty nervous about what kind of America we're going to see over the next 5-10 years," he said. That includes members apprehensive about protests against Trump becoming unruly, as well as an "apocalyptic end result where there's anarchy, jobs are gone, the economy is tipped in the wrong direction and everyone has to fend for themselves." They don't know who might be busting down their door at 2 a.m.
He hopes people are just overreacting.
"I tell everyone don't panic, use your head. If you see something not normal, get out. You're probably right. And if you're not able to get out, you're prepared to do what you need to do," said Smith.
Since the election, Scott and her family and friends have tried not to venture outside except to go to work and come back home. When she had to get gas for her car, she made sure she stopped at a station where other people were around.
"I'M GOING TO PROTECT MYSELF, WHATEVER THAT MEANS"
Scott fears a scenario where she's approached with a gun just because she's black. She hopes a "few choice words that I learned from my grandfather" would be enough to scare anyone off, but she's prepared if the situation escalates.
"I'm not the type of person who is afraid of my own shadow. I'm going to protect myself, whatever that means," Scott told NBC News by phone on her way to the police station to apply for a firearms license.