In the past decade, African-American women applied for gun permits at higher rates than all white
According to a recent study from the Crime Prevention Research Center, this changing face of gun ownership is reflected in Texas and across the United States. In Texas, where the Department of Public Safety tracks race and gender data for registered handgun owners, permits have increased the most for black residents, particularly among women. White residents still represent the majority of owners, but since 2000, African-American women have grown from 1 percent of total permit holders to 11 percent.
Growing up in Chicago, Dee Bond-Hodrick, who now lives in Houston, says she never thought she wanted to be around guns. But now she worries about the safety of her family, and has become one of the more than one million registered gun owners in this state.
“It’s a scary thought not being able to defend your family if someone comes into your home,” she says.
“It’s okay to have a gun. It’s okay to protect your family. There's nothing anti-American about that.”
Smith’s organization has benefited from the shifting mind-set of African Americans in regards to guns. In 2013, a Pew Research Center Study survey found that 29 percent of blacks viewed gun ownership as a good thing. Two years later, that number rose to more than half. Since 2015, when Smith founded NAAGA, the organization has attracted more than 20,000 members, with 42 chapters across the country, including here in Houston.
Women, in general, have shifted gun ownership demographics in recent years. Data provided by the National Rifle Association showed that 86 percent of participants who signed up for the NRA's most popular instruction course – basic pistol – were women. With NAAGA, 60 percent of its members are female.
“If you’re a single black woman going to work at night, coming home late at night, you want to have a gun in your purse,” Smith said. “If you get home late at night and someone breaks in your window, you want to protect yourself and your kids.”
Bond-Hodrick grew up in Chicago with a “healthy fear” of guns. Her mother kept a gun in the house, but anecdotes from her community and the news made Bond-Hodrick weary of firearms. During high school, a classmate died after shooting himself playing Russian roulette, and she constantly heard stories about accidental shootings when a kid picked up a gun in his house.
But when she moved to Texas in 2000 and met her husband, Andre, who owned multiple guns, she started to accept the idea. Andre co-founded the Ibon Eko Gun Club in Houston this past February as a chapter of NAAGA, and insisted Bond-Hodrick join.
“I’m still a little uncomfortable, still a little fearful, but I’m getting over it,” she said.
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The desire for safety drew most members to Ibon Eko, explained Thomas McLemore, the president of the club, although that logic does ignore existing evidence that possessing a gun can do more harm than good. Gun ownership is linked to higher chances of victimization, including homicides and suicides, according to multiple studies. A 2014 analysis of state data from the Boston University School of Public Health found that a 1 percent increase in gun ownership led to a 1 percent increase in gun homicides.
The Crime Prevention study, authored by John Lott, a prominent pro-gun academic, doesn’t offer reasons for the rise in popularity among minorities, but Houston Press interviews with black gun owners indicated news coverage of violence, as well as personal brushes with crime, led people to seek more information on guns and safety. Regulatory changes could also be a factor. The largest spike in black owners in Texas came in 2012 when the state reduced the minimum training hours for permits from ten to four.
And as more clubs form – and as the registration fee for handguns plummets from $140 to $40 in September – minority rates will likely continue to grow.
“I don’t think the gun clubs have necessarily caused people to own more guns,” Bond-Hodrick said. “I think society has caused more people to own guns.”