African Americans Carrying Guns

In my sociology of guns class this week and next, we are reading and discussing Jennifer Carlson’s book Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline. Today I want to reflect some on the issue of race and gun carrying, reflections occasioned by Carlson’s book.

AP Photo/Seth Perlman

As noted previously, Carlson’s study is focused on concealed and open carriers in and around Detroit, Michigan. In the introduction to her book, we meet Jason, an African American in his 30s. A native of Detroit, he chooses to open carry a .45 caliber handgun while walking along one of the city’s major thoroughfares.

Jason is not exceptional, except for the fact that he chooses to carry openly rather than concealed. Carlson observes that “in Detroit and its suburbs, African Americans have higher rates of concealed carry licensees per capita than white residents” (p. 5). For the state as a whole in 2013, blacks were 14.3% of the population, but 21% of license holders (p. 17).

This was not altogether surprising to me since “Law-Abiding One-Man Armies,” a study of concealed weapon permitting in Seattle in 1972, found that in all areas of the city the rate of permit applications was higher for blacks than whites.

And it makes sense that those who live in more dangerous areas might be more likely to arm themselves. Rates of reported victimization on the Seattle permit applications were much higher for blacks than whites, and much higher in the “ghetto” area (39%) than in the predominantly white area (7%).

And yet, those who are anti-gun (and who tend to live in areas in which they are relatively safe) often feel they know what is best for those who live in areas where they are much more likely to be victimized. Take Jonathan Metzl, for example. He is the Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Medicine, Health, and Society, the Director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society, and a Professor of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University. (More on Metzl is a separate post, as well.)


In an editorial titled, “Colion Noir, the NRA’s ‘urban gun enthusiast,’ is off target,” Metzl criticizes Noir’s argument that the “only person responsible for your safety is you.” He calls the NRA’s employment of Noir to reach out to a younger, more urban, and more minority audience “cynical” and “disingenuous.” Why? Because urban America “is quite clearly the worst place to introduce more guns. Indeed, guns are already readily available in low-income minority areas.”

But Noir is not just promoting gun carry in urban areas, he reflects the already existing reality of LEGAL gun carrying by African Americans for their own protection, from Seattle in 1972 to Detroit in 2012.

As National Public Radio reported earlier this year, “According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of blacks now see gun ownership as a good thing, something more likely to protect than harm. That’s up from 29 percent just two years ago.”

Of course, being a “black man with a gun” is not easy, as Carlson discusses throughout her book. Jason, the open carrier in Detroit, was stopped and questioned by police who looked at him like he was “Frankenstein or something” (p. 3). Interviews with other people of color who carried guns led Carlson to conclude that they “experienced profiling both as people of color and as gun carriers” (p. 121). Urban black men not only cannot rely on the police to protect them, they often face hostility from the police, which doubly justifies gun carrying for some.


To be sure, the racial politics and realities of guns in America are never clean and simple. Armed Black Panthers in the California statehouse in 1967 led to the hastily passed Mulford Act, which was signed into law by conservative hero Ronald Reagan. This was followed shortly by the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which ironically catalyzed the modern gun rights movement, which was led and populated mostly by older white men. Metzl makes some interesting points about this, as does Carlson (see her blog post on the topic in addition to Citizen-Protectors).

But the idea that people who have a higher probability of being victimized should not seek to defend themselves is one that I, at least, do not accept. Even though my social position makes me very unlikely to be a victim of violence, my probability of victimization is not zero. In fact, I encountered a very threatening situation only a few years ago which moved me very powerfully to want to defend myself and my children.


  1. David: With all due respect, I fundamentally disagree with some of the statements you make here. I’ve told you of my reservations about Carlson previously, but I’ll add one more. The fact that she found one Black guy walking around with an unconcealed gun says nothing except that there’s one Black guy walking around with an unconcealed gun. That Carlson would attempt to take this one anecdote and try to fashion some kind of sociological weltanschung out of it is shabby research at best, pandering at worst. As for the NPR statement that 54% of Blacks see CCW as a good thing, it’s a meaningless statement. The proper question would be: how many of these Blacks went out and bought guns? Right now the latest Pew poll shows that 60% of those polled say that they don’t want any more gun control. Meanwhile, only 33% of Americans own guns.

    Take a look at the comment I posted yesterday about Noir. He did a 15-minute video on CCW in which more than 20 people appear, of whom almost all are Blacks. And how many said they would buy a gun? Not one. Not one, in an NRA-sponsored video. And in fact only one person actually voiced any desire to use any kind of self-protection from crime, and she said she would get a dog. Now if Colion Noir, who has been pimping for minority CCW couldn’t find a single Black person to say on camera that they thought they should have gun to defend themselves, I’m just not going to buy Carlson’s nonsense about ho gun culture is spreading to the ghetto.


    • “The fact that she found one Black guy walking around with an unconcealed gun says nothing except that there’s one Black guy walking around with an unconcealed gun.” That’s flawed logic — mentioning only one does not mean there is only one, or that she found only one. Mentioning a single instance of something to illustrate a concept is a common technique — look up the definition of “archetype.”

      “Colion Noir, who has been pimping for minority CCW…” Interesting choice of a loaded word, no doubt intentionally chosen to evoke a negative stereotype of black men. Rhetoric like that isn’t helpful to the discussion, IMO.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Who is profiled in Dan Baum’s book, “Gun Guys.” As Baum relays, Ector was held up at gun point in his driveway in his hometown of Detroit and decided that night to get a concealed weapon permit. When he was reporting the robbery to a Detroit police detective he asked what he needed to do to buy a handgun. He was told: “You don’t want to do that. . . . We got enough people running around with guns. You don’t want to be part of the problem. Leave it to the professionals. . . . The police.” To which Ector responded, “Where were you when that nineteen-year-old punk-ass was making up his sweet mind whether to leave my babies fatherless?” He concluded, “No, man, I’m serious. You can’t protect me” (pp. 138-39).

        I know I felt the same way when I (perhaps stupidly) tried to help my neighbor who was having a confrontation with her drug dealer in my apartment parking lot.


        Liked by 1 person

    • MTGG: Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read and comment. I don’t think you have treated Carlson’s study fairly, though. Yes, she focuses her attention on one Black gun carrier in this introduction, and only 7 of her 60 interviewees for the study were Black. But she also shows that “in Detroit and its suburbs, African Americans have higher rates of concealed carry licensees per capita than white residents” (p. 5). For the state as a whole in 2013, blacks were 14.3% of the population, but 21% of license holders (p. 17).

      These findings accord with the first ever empirical study of concealed weapons permitting — Seattle, 1972 — which also found that African Americans apply at higher rates than whites.

      I know it is a troubling thought for white liberals (and I am a half-white liberal) that Blacks not only see guns for self-defense as a good thing (the 54% statistic cited by NPR) but also — in some places and for some time — act on that belief at higher rates than whites.

      In terms of monitoring people’s behavior, I do trust these data-driven studies more than an NRA-sponsored video.


  2. It’s ridiculous there is even still a though of such separation in America, but that’s another story. Colion Noir mission has never been about blacks because he’s black. He has said many times that he speaks to those who like him were taught and thought that guns were not for everyday people. He was introduced to firearms, enjoyed it and it evolved to a love that he shares with all Americans, with no focus on race. His style is his style, I’m twice his age and I respect him, learn from him and even wear his #ThePewPewLife shirt and hat…lol. I am a black man in American, born and raised in NYC and didn’t get involved in ownership of firearms until I was 48 years old. Currently I’m a NRA firearms instructor and encourage as many as possible to learn to be your own self defense method, whether by fight or flight, you can’t depend on the police! I teach my children as much as possible and promise each of them their first hand gun. My wife carries and two of my daughter thus far. So pleas let’s stop all the profiling and separatist studies and language. #IAmAAmerican

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for this thoughtful comment. I definitely agree that Noir is more than just a “black commentator” – he appeals to younger people, new shooters, etc., and also to some of us more seasoned citizens (you and I are the same age).

      But I maintain the fact that he is black is not insignificant. The persona he has assumed, after all, is Colion NOIR.

      Liked by 1 person

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