The new era of American self defense; diversity, inclusion, and empowerment


Courtesy/Connecticut State Library

Samuel Colt, a renowned gun inventor

James Lacefield, Opinion Editor

It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, not far from Boston, when I stepped through the doors of the Mass Firearms Academy to take the Massachusetts Basic Firearms Safety Course. This course meets the basic standards, set by the State Police, necessary for Massachusetts residents to apply for an unrestricted License to Carry a concealed firearm for all lawful purposes, including self-defense, often abbreviated to LTC. Since I have been a firearms enthusiast, hunter, and avid target-shooter for going on 12 years, I have always been very comfortable, and of course safe, around firearms. Thus, when I registered for this course, I was expecting to sit down to a four hour lecture on the same basic rules I have followed every morning in the deer woods and every weekend on the range for the past decade. Yet all my expectations for a dull rant about firearms safety to a handful of people who were only taking the class in order to upgrade their license were blown away, pun intended, when I walked into one of two fully booked classrooms filled with anxious, but attentive, first time shooters.

The scene was even more dramatic as I realized this group of nearly 50 students was merely the first of two classes being held that day, and that the school also holds two more sessions on Sundays, and evening sessions every night of the week, nearly every week of the year. As I paced around the attached shop, I had another shocking revelation about the group I was about to sit down with. Contrary to much of the media coverage about firearms owners, this group was not a bunch of White male hillbilly spec-ops wannabes. Instead, the group was incredibly diverse, with members of many racial and ethnic communities represented in the class. There were also nearly as many women registered for the course as men, obliterating the out-dated stereotype that carrying a firearm for self defense is an inherently masculine act.

This level of diversity has not been common, nor accepted, in the shooting sports for much of America’s history. Minorities have often been prevented from obtaining firearms licenses, or had their firearms extralegally confiscated by White supremacists throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Women were also dissuaded from using firearms, as hunting and target shooting were commonly masculine pastimes, and the defense of the family was left to the man of the house. Yet the 21st century has seen incredible strides, and unfortunately setbacks, for all Americans, but especially women and minorities.

The second decade of the 21st century started off with a global pandemic, which we are all still dealing with today. At the same time, the nation has been experiencing a rise in criminal activity, especially in major metropolitan areas. One must only look to the recent serial murders of homeless people in D.C. and New York, or the strings of smash-and-grabs in California, to see the utter lack of public safety in our most densely populated regions. The uncertainty and fear experienced by many Americans at the hands of the pandemic and the threat of criminal violence caused an unprecedented spike in legal firearms and ammunition sales, as law-abiding citizens realized they may be forced to fend for themselves at a moment’s notice.

At the same time, distrust of police has grown considerably in the wake of high-profile cases of police brutality and murder perpetrated against racial minorities. Now, the government service whose sole role in society is to defend the public is being viewed as a criminal entity in and of itself. For this reason, among many others, minorities are choosing to legally arm themselves, in the event that they must stop an immediate violent threat made against them while untrustworthy public servants are miles away.

The 21st century has also seen incredible advancements in gender equality, as more and more women become the breadwinners of their families, head single-parent households, or even live on their own. Without a stereotypical strong male presence in these uncertain times, or even alongside a male partner, women are (rightly) taking their defense into their own hands, and choosing to arm themselves at greater rates than ever seen before.

While there is still a long way to go to achieve equal political and social rights for all, it seems the old cliche that Samuel Colt (the inventor of the first mass produced repeating handgun in the world) made all people equal is finally being realized, 160 years after his death. 13.8 million first-time gun owners, consisting of a far more diverse population than ever seen in American history, have since flocked to their local firearms dealers, helping to push the industry to a record of nearly 40 million gun sales in 2020 and 2021. While the mad dash to gun stores and nationwide stock shortages of ammunition and firearms are lulling back to a sense of normalcy, I certainly hope that the newfound diversity in the firearms community will not also dwindle. I firmly believe all Americans are entitled to the rights detailed in the Constitution, the 2nd Amendment being no exception, and I hope that all Americans, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or political affiliation, will choose to exercise those rights if they find it to be necessary.