CBC in Texas

Trump 'gave hate groups a megaphone': Gun sales surge among LGBT, minorities in the U.S.

Though gun sales have cooled after the election of a gun-friendly Republican president, more 'nontraditional buyers' including blacks, LGBT people and women are taking up arms to protect themselves from what many fear could be a rise in violence during the Trump presidency.

Fearing assailants 'emboldened' by Republican win, gun clubs see wave of new recruits

Evan Fowler, 22, fires an AR-15 rifle at the Frisco Gun Club in Frisco, Texas. Fowler is the founder of the Dallas chapter of the Pink Pistols, a gun-rights club for LGBT people. The national organization has experienced an uptick in membership since the election of President Donald Trump. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

At a smoky firing range last weekend near Dallas, Evan Fowler, an openly gay college student with chunky glasses and a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his car, loaded a military-style AR-15 rifle and squeezed off round after round with steady precision.

Target practice. The lanky 22-year-old Bernie Sanders supporter was coaching his fiancé, Kevin Fenton, who favoured a .22-calibre.

Above the crackling gunfire, a thunderous bang from a nearby lane startled Fenton. He wasn't armed, but he flinched.

"It's always like, oh, right! That's how loud it is," Fenton said, as hot bullet casings clattered at his feet. "You just get used to it."

He probably should. Fowler and Fenton belong to the new Dallas chapter of the Pink Pistols, a national LGBT gun advocacy group whose membership has spiked since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. As interest in firearms soars in the queer community, the liberal-leaning couple reckons they'll be at the range a lot.

Evan Fowler, left, coaches his fiance, Kevin Fenton, on the proper shooting form for a .22-calibre rifle at the Frisco Gun Club in Texas. Fowler and Fenton are members of the Dallas chapter of the Pink Pistols, a national LGBT-focused gun-rights organization. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

In the U.S., the Pink Pistols boast more than 9,000 members, with the months around Trump's electoral victory in November providing the biggest bump since the aftermath of the Pulse massacre in Orlando last June, according to organizers.

Gun sellers have also reported unusually strong sales for "non-traditional buyers" such as minorities and women, even though overall sales have cooled due to the election of a gun-friendly Republican government.

The Pink Pistols organization is non-partisan, but many cite the same reason for joining. They talk about their anxieties — rational or not — that attacks on minorities, women and the LGBT community will rise during Trump's presidency.

Marcus Cotton, a gun seller at the Frisco Gun Club in Frisco, Texas, says he has recently seen a spike in women interested in learning about firearms at the store and range. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

"It's the political climate," said Jeigh Johnson, who is black and married to another woman. "One of my friends said, 'Our president… gave hate groups a megaphone.'"

Johnson is shopping around for her first AR-15. Before she became a gun hobbyist, her main vice was shoes.

The FBI reported last month that federal gun background checks for January dipped to two million, down 20 per cent from last year. A broad downward sales trend generally results when conservatives take office and pacify "panic buying" that's triggered by fears liberals will seize their guns.

This year, retailers report having surplus stock.

More unusual, though, are the brisk sales among a more diverse customer base than the typically white male clientele.

Cleveland gunsmith and firearms instructor Kevin Jones has seen sales up "three to four times what it is normally for African-Americans" since the election. More Latinos and women are inquiring about concealed-carry classes, he added.

In February, Austin gun seller Michael Cargill said "a group representing 100 black women" contacted him requesting firearms lessons.

"They said it's because of the election. They're afraid the country is going back in time."

Reports about a rise in hate crimes around the election prompted Tim, a gay information security analyst from Plano, Texas, to "get acclimated to being around guns." In January, he purchased his first firearm, a 45-calibre Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol. The 37-year-old said if hate groups are "emboldened in Trump's America," he wants to protect himself. Tim, who withheld his last name, feels he can't depend on local politicians or a Department of Justice he believes "would have no problem with people going out and beating up a fag."

A selection of targets available for purchase is displayed at the Frisco Gun Club in Texas. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

The National African-American Gun Association saw its membership double since Election Day to 18,000 across the U.S. About 10-20 new people join daily, according to the group's president Philip Smith. In the three weeks following the election, more than 1,000 people contacted him. Smith suspects it was "directly because of what was going on politically."

"It's really cool to be a racist now," said Smith. "That's a concern. As African-Americans, we're not going to go through the '60s again."

Outside a barbershop in a predominantly black neighbourhood of Dallas, Babu Omowale, a member of the New Black Panthers and the co-founder of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, said his African-American gun-rights organization is responding to "a fear factor around the country for black and coloured people."

Babu Omowale is a member of the New Black Panthers and the co-founder of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club. The Dallas-based organization focused on 'African-American nationalism' and gun rights for blacks has had a surge in interest since the election of Donald Trump, he says. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

The group has been advising people to arm themselves, Omowale said, a gold star glinting from one of his front teeth.

"We don't want to be involved in a race conflict, but this government doesn't have our backs. We're watching our own backs now."

Several cities over the last year have started or revived defunct Pink Pistols chapters. Fowler, the college student, restarted the Dallas chapter two days after the November election. It has 64 members, picking up two within the last week. A handful usually meets monthly for coffee before going to a shooting range.

"I feel like if we let people know we're doing what we can to protect ourselves, there's less of a perception that we're soft targets," Fowler said.

Jeigh Johnson joined the Dallas Pink Pistols, an LGBT gun-rights group, in January. (Jeigh Johnson)

While eating pizza in Dallas's Oak Lawn "gaybourhood," another Pink Pistols member, Geoffrey White, said his concealed handgun was as much for protecting himself from muggings as from violence due to his political views. He voted for Trump.

"I don't buy all those stories" about hate-motivated attacks, the 34-year-old said. "The only people I see getting attacked are Trump supporters."

Pink Pistols national leader Gwendolyn Patton also dismisses the Trump-related frenzy to join her organization as left-wing "silliness." So long as LGBT people are embracing the Second Amendment, though, the transgender gun-rights activist welcomes new recruits.

Geoff White, a Trump supporter and an openly gay member of the Dallas Pink Pistols gun-advocacy group. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

Political tensions are covering an intersectionality of genders, race and sexual identities when it comes to gun ownership. At the Frisco Gun Club where Fowler practised shooting last Saturday, he approached Marcus Cotton, a black gun seller, to promote his Pink Pistols branch.

"I don't know if y'all heard of us? We're an organization to teach LGBT people how to defend themselves," Fowler said, making his pitch.

"That's dope," Cotton replied, handing Fowler a guest voucher for free range time.

Outside the TargetMaster gun store and range in Garland, Texas, two middle-aged black friends chatted in the parking lot. One of the men brought a handgun he's owned for five years but hadn't fired until that day on the range. He reconsidered after reading reports about hate crimes following the election.

"I felt I needed to sharpen my skills," he said.

Evan Fowler, founder of the Dallas Pink Pistols, stands inside the Frisco Gun Club in Texas with the rifle cases for his AR-15 and 22-calibre rifles. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

His friend brought his niece and wife, at their request, to the range. They spent an hour on firearms safety and target practice. Asked if he felt more comfortable after the training, though, he demurred.

"Handling the weapon? Yeah. Comfortable in America? No," he said. "I'm not naive."

A wall poster from the National Rifle Association at the Frisco Gun Club displays the three rules for firearm safety: Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction, keep fingers off the trigger until ready to shoot, and always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

About the Author

Matt Kwong

Reporter

Matt Kwong is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News. He previously reported for CBC News as an online journalist in New York and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at: @matt_kwong