The firearms industry and its GOP allies have taken a more inclusive approach to fighting Democrat-led efforts to pass stricter gun laws this year.
The once-mighty National Rifle Association, whose bankruptcy bid was shot down by a federal judge on May 11, has played a much less-active role in the current gun control debate taking place on Capitol Hill due to its internal corruption scandals and related lawsuits.
In its place, gun rights supporters have found additional political allies among minority-led, pro-Second Amendment groups such as the National African American Gun Association and the DC Project, a women-centered firearms education organization that also trains domestic violence victims to safely and legally defend themselves.
Republicans have invited leaders from these groups to speak on Capitol Hill to counter emotional testimony from the families of gun violence victims invited by Democrats.
Firearms trade groups have also built inroads with leaders from the Pink Pistols, an LGBTQ gun group, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Gun Owners, which formed in March amid a Covid-19-related surge in anti-Asian hate crimes.
Promoting self defense
AAPI GO’s co-founder, Scott Kane, 37, is White, but his wife and the couple’s 8-year-old daughter are Chinese American. Kane said he’s voted Democrat most of his adult life and never felt the need to own a gun until his family was the victim of a hate crime a year ago.
The trio was walking to a local park in their suburban, San Jose, California, community one afternoon in March 2020 when Kane says a pair of men driving a pickup truck pulled up next to them. He said the men shouted curse words and racial epithets at his wife and daughter — including “kung-flu” and “go back to China” — before spitting at them and speeding off.
“My wife was shaken up, my daughter was in tears,” Kane told CNN Business. “I just felt it’s my responsibility to find some way of protecting my family if God forbid something worse happens when I’m not at home.”
Kane said he purchased his first two firearms — a Springfield XD 9mm handgun and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle — a short time later, just before state and local authorities ordered the temporary closure of gun stores along with other non-essential businesses due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kane said he voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and is in favor of the President’s plan to expand gun background checks, but he doesn’t approve of banning AR-15s, which he said have less recoil than a shotgun and are safer to use for home defense.
“That’s the only thing I don’t support,” Kane said of a so-called assault weapons ban. “I agree with the spirit of what [Democrats] are trying to do. I just think there needs to be a fact-based solution.”
The gun control debate has become increasingly partisan in recent years with the vast majority of Democrats supporting added protections such as universal background checks and limits on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, according to an April Pew Research poll.
But the same Pew study revealed Democratic support for tougher gun laws has slipped 5% this year — despite an ongoing mass shooting epidemic.
“A large majority of Democrats and Democratic leaners (81%) say gun laws should be stricter than they are today, though the share who say this has declined slightly since 2019 (from 86%),” the study authors wrote.
Several studies show most women, LGBTQ and Asian Americans, and an overwhelming majority of Black Americans, tend to vote for Democrats. Women and Black Americans were also the driving forces behind a 40% surge in first-time gun buyers through the first four months of 2020, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms trade group that tracks and analyzes gun sales across the country.
NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva said his organization believes many of those first-time gun buyers are Democratic voters.
“This was something we started seeing several years ago, but I think 2020 took that from first gear into fifth gear,” he told CNN Business.
The trade group’s leaders have been meeting with the minority-led gun groups to identify issues on which they can collaborate.
“There are certain points on which the industry can partner with NAAGA and other groups where we can talk about the ability of law-abiding Americans, regardless of skin color, to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” Oliva said.
Those common-ground issues include opposing county pistol permit laws in states like North Carolina, where a recent University of North Carolina Law School study found Black Wake County residents in and around the city of Raleigh were nearly three times less likely to have a handgun license applications approved as their White counterparts.
“While this data is certainly striking, the conclusions from it are limited,” the study authors noted.
NAAGA says the pistol permit law is a callback to Jim Crow era black codes that allowed local sheriffs to limit or outright bar Black Americans from owning firearms, often leaving them defenseless against the racist terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan and other violent White lynch mobs.
State House lawmakers in North Carolina recently voted to end their pistol permit system, sending the measure to the state senate for a decisive vote.
Anti-gun violence groups such as Everytown say added gun control measures save lives, citing a 2019 Rockefeller Institute of Government study that found homicide rates were 10% lower in states that require background checks for all handgun sales than in states that don’t.
“If more guns made people safer, this would be the safest country on Earth, but that is not our reality,” Becky George, Everytown’s senior adviser of external engagement and programs, told CNN via email. “What we know would make this country safer is ensuring that gun sales go through a background check — and that starts with common-sense federal background check legislation.”
Both NAAGA and the DC Project say their membership numbers have continued to swell this year after skyrocketing in 2020 thanks largely to pandemic-related fears of rising crime and additional social unrest following the police murder of George Floyd.
DC Project founder Dianna Muller, 51, a White retired police officer, stresses that her group is non-partisan. But she also said the defund the police movement that swept the nation after Floyd’s murder caused many liberal women to purchase their first firearm, join groups like hers and sign up for shooting classes.
The NSSF says women represented 40% of the 8.4 million Americans who purchased a gun for the first time last year and many live in metropolitan regions of the country that tend to vote Democrat.
“The party lines just fall away when it becomes an issue of family or personal safety,” said Kelly Ann Pidgeon, a licensed firearms safety instructor and DC Project member who trains women at her Armed and Feminine gun range in Western Pennsylvania.
“We’d rather handle it ourselves”
NAAGA executive board member Geneva Solomon, 39, and her husband, Jonathan, are the African-American co-owners of Redstone Firearms, a Burbank, California, gun store. Solomon spoke out against increased gun control measures during a March 23 US Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing on common sense solutions to reduce gun violence. She was joined by Asian-American Second Amendment advocate Chris Cheng, the History Channel’s “Top Shot” season 4 champion.
Solomon says incidents like Floyd’s murder and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery by armed White vigilantes helped fuel a gun-buying surge among Black Americans last year, albeit for different reasons.
“We’d rather not call 911 and ultimately end up being the victim,” she told CNN Business. “We’d rather handle it ourselves.”
NAAGA’s leaders also emphasize that their organization is non-partisan. The group has been critical of both the right-wing NRA and left-wing civil rights groups — including the NAACP and the ACLU — for not standing up for the Second Amendment rights of Black Americans such as Philando Castile, Jemel Roberson and Atatiana Jefferson who were all killed by police while legally carrying firearms.
“Historically the Second Amendment has not been one that has been supported for our community,” NAAGA vice president Douglas Jefferson said. “We plan to change that.”
In 2018, the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey estimated that there were more than 393 million guns in US households, making America the number one country on the planet for gun ownership.
That was two years before 2020, when the NSSF estimates that 21 million guns were sold in the US, more than any year on record. That trend has continued this year with additional record-setting sales figures in January and March, the second highest month ever for firearm sales.
It’s unclear whether these minority groups can tip the scales against Democratic efforts to pass a pair of new gun laws. So far the Senate remains divided along party lines, with centrists such as Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin pushing for less strict reforms.
Everytown concedes it’s going to be a tough fight in the Senate, but the group believes Democrats can still win.
“The vast majority of Americans support background checks on gun sales, no matter their race, political affiliation, state, or gun ownership status,” George said. “There are few issues in America that are more unifying than gun safety and it’s time our leaders in the Senate listen to the people and act.”