Ava Caudle ’25
Over the past few years, the demographics of gun ownership in the United States have noticeably shifted. More women and people of color are becoming gun owners, a trend that reflects changing attitudes toward the demand for firearms ownership and personal safety. The diversified pool of gun owners in recent years can be seen as a statement from marginalized communities as they feel increasingly vulnerable in a tumultuous political climate.
Recent statistics corroborate this trend. According to a study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, gun ownership among Black Americans increased by 56% in 2020 from the prior year; additionally, gun ownership among Asian Americans increased by 43%. According to another recent study by Harvard University, the proportion of women who own guns in the United States has increased significantly over the last five years. Specifically, the study found that 42% of gun owners in the country are now women, representing a 14% increase since the previous year. Furthermore, the study revealed that between January 2019 and April 2021, nearly 3.5 million women became new gun owners.
A common denominator among these groups is a shared experience of discrimination. While people of color and women experience marginalization in different contexts, they have been longtime victims of harassment and dismissiveness (this especially rings true among women of color and people from both demographics in the LGBTQ+ community). From police brutality against nonwhite people to consistent sexual harassment news stories from men in power, women and people of color have endured systemic failure after systemic failure. Given our country’s emphasis on guns and the constant inability of legislation to offer substantial protections to marginalized groups, it is no wonder that more people have resorted to firearms.
The upswing in gun possession can stem from these groups recognizing the value of owning a gun to protect themselves and their families against potential attacks and hate crimes. More women and people of color seem to recognize owning a firearm as a vital mechanism to defend themselves against possible intrusions—from both crazed, hateful individuals and the unsupportive governmental establishment they represent. Many new gun owners among women, for example, are mothers who feel that their families’ safety is compromised and view the weapon as a method of taking said safety into their own hands after the state has not held attackers properly accountable. These changes in gun ownership in the United States reflect the sociopolitical environment we live in. People of color and women are recognizing the need to protect themselves in an environment unprotected by the government intended to defend our rights.
However, this trend also highlights the issue of prejudice in gun ownership. Traditionally, demographic gaps in gun use have been complemented by the status of guns in the United States as an exclusionary tool. Firearms in this country are overwhelmingly associated with white men for either machismo-oriented defense or for machismo-oriented sport (e.g., hunting). There is a pervasive stereotype that gun ownership is primarily their domain. People who do not fall neatly into either category who own guns may face discrimination or bias from others in the gun community. Such bias speaks to the persistence of our country’s roots as they seep through gun culture: America has hailed white men as the ruling class for centuries, and as such, white men are the prime demographic with unquestioned Second Amendment access. The expansion of shooting into an activity for a broader range of Americans represents a widened perception of who truly needs increased protection. The rise in gun ownership among underrepresented demographics also brings attention to the need for increased education and training in safe gun handling. Many gun owners generally do not receive proper training, which can result in accidents or injuries. This concern must be addressed to ensure the safety of gun owners (especially those marginalized) and others around them.
Despite the growing rates of firearm use among women and people of color, there is still a long way to go in breaking down stereotypes and increasing understanding between different groups. One of the most effective ways to achieve this goal is through education and outreach programs that help promote safe and responsible gun ownership among all demographics. Such programs can help ensure that the growing number of gun owners are well-informed and equipped to handle firearms safely while promoting greater understanding and cooperation. If firearm abolition is an unrealistic goal for the time being, the most critical steps toward leveling the protective playing field entail inclusion in the gun community and ensuring proper use of these weapons to utilize them for their idealized purpose: equitable safety.