Envision someone with concealed weapons permit and you’ll probably imagine a gun-totin’ redneck. But while white males do comprise the overwhelming majority of permits, Black Americans are increasingly applying to carry a gun for protection. As more threats and acts of racial violence make the news, Black people are right to fear for their safety, and many Black women choose a gun as their weapon of choice to keep themselves and their children safe.
But Black women are in a unique predicament when it comes to exercising their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. On one hand, we can choose to earn our concealed carry permit and carry a gun to protect us from the numerous threats we face. On the other, we must consider whether we’re opening ourselves up to vulnerability at the hands of those sworn to protect us–the police and the American judicial system.
The number of Black women faced with this decision is increasing exponentially. The number of Black women permitted to carry a weapon in the state of Texas has doubled since 2010, despite both Black women and men having a higher application rejection rate than white applicants. In some cities and states, the rejection rate is so much higher than it is for white applicants that there are lawsuits alleging discrimination when it comes to concealed carry permits. Not only do Black women have to decide whether or not to carry a weapon to protect themselves or their families, but in many cases, Black women must decide whether or not to do so once they’ve been denied, despite meeting the legal requirements.
Since the death of Sandra Bland in July 2015, many of us have begun to consider some tough questions. What if we encounter a racist or sexist officer? Will it matter that our weapon is legal, that we train regularly at the range, that we store it safely and follow the proper protocol to let the officer know we’re carrying? Or will our children grow up without a mother because we were protecting ourselves from the wrong people? Despite urging from her white, conservative brother-in-law to carry a gun, Dena Robinson says she’s “terrified that [she]’ll be killed…by police who will then say [she] pulled the weapon they found in [her] car”. It’s not a far stretch. Time and time again, officers have been caught lying about whether or not the suspect they shot and killed was armed. Dena refuses to even touch a gun, to ensure everyone who knows her is aware that she would never have a weapon in her car, nor try to use it on anyone.
What does it mean when protecting the ones you love can also put them in danger? tweet
Many women, regardless of color, decide to get a weapon after leaving a violent and abusive relationship to protect them from a man they fear will punish them for leaving. But in Florida, Marissa Alexander is locked up for 20 years for firing warning shots at her aggressive husband. In a state like Florida, with Stand Your Ground laws, Alexander was well within her rights had she shot him in self defense. Instead, she’s in prison for trying to discourage him from abusing her further. Many legal experts agree that she would have had a better chance of avoiding jail time had she shot him.
But is that true? What happens if we do need to use our gun to protect ourselves or our children? Usually, a citizen with a clear-cut case of self defense isn’t charged with any crime if they shoot their would-be assailant. But would that courtesy extend to a Black woman?
If we look closer at the Violence Policy Center’s (VPC) study on justifiable homicide, we see that in the five-year period between 2006-2010, 53% of justifiable homicides were committed by a white person. In that same time period, 41% of justifiable homicides were committed by Black people. That data may seem promising, but when we dig a bit deeper, we find some very disturbing insights.
Between 2006-2010, 58% of people killed in justifiable homicides were Black, while only 40% were white. On the contrary, in 2013, the FBI statistics show that 53% of homicide victims were white, while 43% were Black. So we already see a gap in the number of justifiable homicides vs criminal homicides by race–if the person killed is Black, there’s a greater chance of the homicide being justified.
But when we look at the race of the shooter and the race of the person killed in justifiable homicides, we learn something truly terrifying. When the shooter is white, 65% of people killed in justifiable homicides were white, while 33% were Black. On the other hand, out of all justifiable homicides committed by Black shooters, only 8% of the assailants were white. In short, if a Black person shoots a white person, they have a very slim chance of the homicide being ruled justifiable, while white shooters are less likely to be convicted of a criminal offense if their victim is Black.
That trend follows with other races as well. When the shooter is non-white, they are far more likely to have their shooting ruled justifiable if the person killed is non-white, particularly when the person killed is Black. When a non-white person shoots a white person, it is much less likely their homicide will be ruled justifiable.
Will it matter that our weapon is legal, that we train regularly at the range, that we store it safely and follow the proper protocol to let the officer know we’re carrying? tweet
Not only are Black people more likely to be perceived as a threat to be stopped with lethal force, but the lack of value placed on Black life allows more police shootings to be ruled justifiable. That same treatment extends to their white civilian counterparts. But when Black women must choose to defend themselves from a white assailant, we are more likely to face criminal charges for our actions.
Black women must toe the line between protecting themselves from violence, while appearing non-threatening to anyone who is white or white-passing. Furthermore, if they must protect themselves from a white person, they run a strong risk of being found guilty of murder, rather than shooting in self defense. The act of carrying while Black is fraught with landmines. But even so, many Black women still choose to arm themselves. Ivy Hall, a mother of three from Texas, is in the process of earning her concealed carry permit, but the statistics don’t change her mind about owning a gun. “I’d do anything to protect my children. Therefore, if I have to do time due to protecting them, it’s a chance I’m willing to take,” she says. At the end of the day, Black women are still willing to put their lives on the line to protect the people they love.
But what does it mean when protecting the ones you love can also put them in danger? For Black women with sons, we may be teaching them that concealed carry is a good thing. But what happens when they’re older and follow our example? Jamaica Acy says she wouldn’t discourage her son from carrying. “I’m more afraid of racist white people. They would target him. Black people, especially men, are looked at as something to fear.” Other Black mothers aren’t so sure. When asked how they felt about their sons carrying a gun, many Black women said they would discourage it because they felt the police were the bigger threat.
So how can Black women avoid opening themselves up to legal woes or becoming victims of violence in their quest to protect themselves?
Many choose to practice some form of martial arts, carry knives instead of guns or learn to trust their intuition and avoid threatening situations by reading the bestselling books such as The Gift of Fear. Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga are popular choices because many women are afraid of their gun being taken from them, or escalating a situation unnecessarily by pulling their gun.
And as the number of concealed carry permits issued increases, Black women will be more likely to encounter a white male who is also legally carrying. In that confrontation, the odds won’t be in her favor. Unfortunately, it seems, Black women may have the right to carry a gun for protection, but that same gun may endanger them rather than guarantee their safety.