Standing in the shadow of a gigantic net from the Topgolf facility next door, the nondescript XCAL building in Ashburn, Virginia, resembles any of the number of corporate offices in the area. Inside, however, there are several shooting ranges, including a tactical range, a fitness center, a martial arts dojo, and a restaurant serving bar-and-grill fare such as burgers, wings, and tacos.
I was there a few weeks ago for Range Day. The annual event is the brainchild of Shermichael Singleton and John Keys, the co-founders and owners of Guns Out TV, a brand described as a “media company that aims to create educational, entertaining, and compelling content pertaining to firearms operation and ownership.” The event featured vendors, different firearms for attendees to shoot courtesy of XCAL and several firearms vendors, shooting contests, live podcasts, and giveaways. It also was just the latest indication of the changing face of gun ownership in America.
A popular liberal trope is that Republicans would back gun control if only more minorities started showing an interest in lawful gun ownership. The left-wing writer and TV pundit Wajahat Ali repeats some version of this regularly. Example: “My annual suggestion that a bunch of us brown and black and Muslim folks need to buy huge guns and peacefully march against gun control armed to the teeth wearing camo. This is the quickest way we will get sensible gun control in this country. It’ll happen within weeks.”
The popularity of Range Day, Guns Out TV, and other such projects suggests otherwise. Singleton and Keys are black. And they are part of a clear trend.
Gun ownership in the United States is primarily associated with men, particularly white men in the South, Midwest, and Mountain States who live in rural areas. The arrival of Donald Trump on the national political scene and his subsequent election only added a red cap to what many people think a stereotypical gun owner looks like.
That stereotype exists for a reason, of course. In the U.S., most gun owners are white and male. According to a survey conducted by Statista, 48% of those who own a gun say they are Republicans, and 66% who live in a household with a gun say the same. Twenty percent of Democrats own a gun, and 31% say they live in a household with a gun. Among independents, 32% are gun owners, and 42% live in a household with a gun.
However, the events of 2020, including the coronavirus pandemic, the civil unrest stemming from the death of George Floyd, and the 2020 election, disrupted this aspect of American culture, too. Gun ownership rose among women and black people, many of whom became gun owners for the first time.
What’s more, the politicians and pundits surprised by this trend don’t seem to understand the reason for it.
When politicians, particularly those advocating stricter gun control laws, pontificate about legislation, they typically mention “hunters” and “sport shooters” to deflect criticism from their proposals. “You’ll still be able to hunt! You’ll still be able to go skeet shooting.” But according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2023, 72% of gun owners cite protection as a “major reason” they own a gun, with hunting coming in at 32% and sport shooting 30%.
Keys would be happy to explain it to them. A Marine veteran, Keys did not personally own a gun before 2020. He saw the pandemic and the George Floyd protests as the turning point. “We’re locked in our homes, and cities are burning across America.” Citing the inability to rely on response times from the police, he said, “With that much uncertainty, I felt like I needed to take the security of myself and my family into my own hands.”
According to the National Firearms Survey from 2021, the percentage of black people who own a gun is over 25%, up from 14% only six years earlier. In a short documentary about black gun ownership by Deutsche Welle, a German-based broadcaster, mother and daughter Sharon and Genesis of Colorado cited understaffed police departments and their slower response times as a necessity for arming themselves for protection. “You don’t know where violence is going to pop up.” Sharon mentioned another factor for her desire to learn how to shoot: Trump.
And not for reasons one might assume, as I found several black gun owners at Range Day who expressed the same sentiment.
Collin Younger, 56, of Silver Spring, Maryland, said “Donald Trump” when I asked why he became a new gun owner. “I don’t blame Trump entirely, of course. But Trump made it easier for people to say things in public they might have said privately before.” Wayne Branch, 60, of Temple Hills, Maryland, agreed, as did Dennis Pruitt, 60, of Leesburg, Virginia, a veteran gun owner and co-founder of the gun rights group DMV Shooters.
Pruitt recounted a story of when he was in line at a home improvement center and a man cut in line ahead of him. Pruitt said he politely told him he cut in line, and the man, who was white, turned and said, “You wait your turn, boy.” Pruitt said the encounter nearly escalated when the man made a motion indicating he was carrying a gun and only backed down when Pruitt made it clear he, too, carried a firearm. Pruitt said he saw nothing like it before in his time in northern Virginia.
The one thing all three also agreed on was gun control and their opposition to it — despite their feelings about Trump.
Younger and Branch had harsh words for the gun control measures Gov. Wes Moore (D-MD) signed into law earlier this year that raised handgun permit fees and limited where people can carry firearms, among other restrictions. Branch told the Washington Examiner, “I will vote for the Republican in the next [gubernatorial] election.”
According to a 2021 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group, in the first half of 2021:
- Over 90% of retailers reported an increase in black men purchasing firearms.
- Nearly 87% of retailers reported an increase in black women purchasing firearms.
When asked about the increase among black gun owners and what changed, Singleton, a conservative political commentator and the former deputy chief of staff for Dr. Ben Carson while he was secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was blunt in his assessment. “Politics has changed. I think the more visible cases of police brutality, the ones we’ve actually seen because of body cameras, and I would say that some of race-based shootings like we saw in Charleston and what happened in Buffalo.” He continued, “Also, a lot of the inflamed political rhetoric, which I would argue comes from a minute portion of the country, is still very loud. And they are visible because it’s not normal, and people of color believe they need firearms to defend themselves because they’re thinking, ‘No one is going to protect me.’”
The Guns Out TV guys also want to change the association between black men and criminality inherent in the comments by Ali and other liberals. They say their work “aims to create educational, entertaining, and compelling content pertaining to firearms operation and ownership.” Hip-hop artist Twista, who was present for the Range Day event, is a firearms enthusiast. He is also a certified U.S. Concealed Carry Association instructor and a certified National Rifle Association instructor. He runs the Gun Camp in Chicago, which offers a range of classes and different levels of firearm instruction. The mission? To empower its clients “through safety, education, and professional training.”
Gun control advocates got the “more armed minorities” hypothetical they said would advance their goal. So far, it’s having the opposite effect.
Jay Caruso is a writer and editor residing in West Virginia.