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'We should be able to protect ourselves'- memberships in NY Black gun club on the rise

Monroe, USAt 61-years-old Margaret Powell of El Dorado, Arkansas said she never thought she would want to own a gun...until now.

"At 61 years, I've not needed it, not ever thought of it. I would say 'Get the guns away. no, no no'. But now my views have changed because I guess the world is changing right before our eyes," Powell said just days before she was due to take her first gun safety class. "It's like we're going back in time to maybe the Wild, Wild West or something. Everybody has to have...has a gun. So, you know, It's shocking that at my age, I would be interested in something like this. It's amazing."

Powell is not alone. The insecurity brought by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns combined with the anger following the death of George Floyd in police custody in May has lead to a higher levels of anxiety, fear and gun ownership, especially among African Americas. According to the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA) gun ownership among Black people is growing.

Founded in Atlanta in 2015, NAAGA started with 30 members. The organization now has 75 active chapters and more than 30,000 members, according to its website. NAAGA's founder Philip Smith said more than 2,000 people joined the group in the 36 hours after the death of George Floyd.

Membership also has grown in New York's Hudson Valley. Nubian Gun Club founder Damon Finch said the group started earlier this year with "a couple of people getting together."
"Our membership almost every night is doubling, tripling. It's just amazing how many people are now joining a group," said Finch, a firearms instructor.

He added, "When asking people why did you join a club, the common denominator that we're hearing is obviously safety, improve the ability to shoot, but also with what's going on in the world, they just want to at least have a game plan for them to protect their families." African Americas are not the only ones considering gun ownership.

Gun sales in June were the highest on record with 3.9 million firearms sold, according to calculations from the Brookings Institution. And gun retailers report about 40% of purchases coming from first-time buyers, according to the trade group the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

According to FBI statistics, the first spike in gun sales came in March after U.S. President Trump declared a national COVID-19 emergency. The week of March 16 saw the highest ever number of background checks for people wanting to purchase a firearm since the government began compiling statistics in 1998. The second highest week for background checks started June 1, following the death of George Floyd. "There's a lot of racial tension. There's a lot of divide in almost every arena that you can think of," said Powell in Arkansas.

Such tensions have galvanized groups such as Black Guns Matter which advocated for African American gun ownership in Minneapolis during recent protests, and the newly formed black militia, the Not Fucking Around Coalition which made its first public appearance in May to protest the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black jogger shot by two white men in Georgia. NFAC recently rallied in Louisville, Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police officers who burst into her apartment.

Every gun club is different. While NAAGA has grown into a political force, the Hudson Valley Nubian Gun Club's offers camaraderie, safety and weapons training. "I feel a little more prepared," said registered nurse and Hudson Valley Nubian Gun Club member Maliuqka (pronounced Maliqua) Burton.

"Self-preservation is universal law. We should be able to protect ourselves,' added gun club member Gahiji (pronounced Gah-ee-jee) Manderson who works in law enforcement. "We're not looking for trouble, but to be able to protect ourselves if trouble comes towards our way," Powell also said her aim is self defense. "My goal to be able to stop a person from getting into my space that is trying to cause me harm."

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