COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — For the women gathered in Olde Towne East at the Onyx Gun Club, owning a gun allows them to protect and educate their children while exercising their Second Amendment right.
They are among the fastest-growing group of gun owners in the country, according to the National African American Gun Association.
Thomas Cunningham, who opened this NAAGA chapter in 2018, said of the 2,500 African Americans who came through classes last year, only five were men.
“Our classes have always been 98 percent women,” Cunningham said. “This year we’ve seen an increase in men.”
Cunningham, a range safety officer, Army veteran, and NRA instructor, explained, “Right now, gun ownership in our community has risen, probably quadruple the numbers, because of all the unfortunate events.”
He’s seen an increase in the number of students for the Concealed Carry Weapon license classes in the last two years. “Because we, in our communities, want to protect ourselves and our families, and what better way than gun training,” he said.
Four African American women gathered around a table at Onyx Gun Club to speak with NBC4’s Cynthia Rosi about protecting themselves and their children. On the table is Fawn Brown, 30, who works in the legal community. Alexis Wymer, 34, is a nurse. Rosalind Phipps-Jones, 42, works as an entrepreneur, and Amber Estis, 37, is the founding principal of a school in Columbus.
NBC4: What brings you to Onyx Gun Club?
Rosalind: Me being an entrepreneur, I wanted to protect myself. So I chose to go and get a gun because I’m out late at night. I wanted to protect myself so that I don’t live in fear, I’m living in awareness.
Alexis: I lost a cousin to improper handling of a firearm, and he was a teenager. I lost a high school friend due to the same thing. And it’s just something that continues to happen in the Black community. So, as a means to be an example to my teenage girls, and for any other young person in my family that also may be an entrepreneur, a business owner, or somebody who’s out late and want to protect themselves, to also just say, ‘Hey, be accountable.’ Everything that you do is based off the decisions that you make, that’s what shapes your life. Be properly informed if you’re going to make the decision to own a firearm. Understand the regulations surrounding owning a firearm and handling a firearm.
NBC4: How do you talk to your children about guns?
Fawn: I do not think waiting to teach children until they are older is appropriate. Not for my kids. My kids will know how to use a firearm early on. Right now they are just learning they are not toys, they are serious business. They don’t play with fake guns, because these are serious. And Mommy and Daddy have them all the time.
When they hug us, they know not to touch it. It is there. We don’t hide them. We do put them in secure places. At night we put them in safes. But we wear them in our house, normal, just like everyone else. And I think if you take the approach, like, ‘Oh, you have a firearm, my child cannot come to your house,’ you then put it in a perspective that this is something that is negative. It can be negative. But if you see a firearm, I don’t want you to touch it, but on the same note, I want when you get older and are an appropriate age, I want you to feel comfortable that this is something that my mom and my dad does, and this is normal because in other cultures it is normal.
Our community is the only community that when we are seen with a firearm that we are now officially a threat. We are a problem. People move away. People become nervous. Not just officers — people. But if someone else of a different culture — because I see it all the time — carry a firearm, it is normal. So my reason was to normalize African American women, men, whoever, only does what is normal in our community, and is normal for the next generation. But our goal and our hope is that we have prepared them in such a way that they handle it properly regardless of what their friend may do.
NBC4: Last May, a 20-year-old woman inside a car shot an alleged carjacker after he reportedly pointed a gun at her, resulting in his death. What are your thoughts on defending yourself?
Amber: Any time you need to defend yourself, that’s why you’re trained to use your firearm. So if someone shows or brandishes a weapon, you need to defend yourself. That is now active threat.
Rosalind: My gun leaves with me every time I leave the house. And again, not out of fear but out of awareness. In a situation where someone was going to try to carjack me, or whatever, then I would be prepared to defend myself. There are laws that we have to follow and be aware of even with defending ourselves, so the Onyx Club is great knowledge — just because someone is trying to attack doesn’t always give you the right to shoot them and kill them.
NBC4: Isn’t there a deep-seated tradition to conceal carry a weapon in the African American community?
Amber: I don’t know that I would necessarily say that it’s a tradition, but more us having the same opportunities as other individuals who don’t look like us. And it’s not just in the firearm world. It’s in all different avenues. We just want to have the same opportunities, the same rights, as everybody else.
NBC4: We’ve had incidents of guns found in backpacks in schools. How do you talk to kids about seeing a gun at school, and what the process is if that happens?
Fawn: You leave and you call me. Because it’s unfortunate that in our community that if a Black kid hands in a gun, they’re calling the cops.
Alexis: One of the things is having the permission to speak out about what you know is not right. One of the things I’m teaching my children is that it’s OK to not be part of the crowd, not be a part of what’s trending, not be a part of what’s popular, because a lot of the time what’s popular is going to get you in trouble anyway. And how to go about going to the teachers or the principals about what it is that you see, hear, and you know — especially something that could cause someone else harm. You quietly go and let somebody know. I’m taught as a nurse not to react. I teach my kids these things. Try your best to leave your emotions out of a situation when you encounter somebody who is talking to you about something like, ‘I have a knife’ or ‘I have drugs’ or ‘I have a gun.’ Don’t give them any indication that you’re going to tell, but you need to make sure that first, you go and find the closest teacher that you can. Let them know you need to go to the bathroom or something. Go to the principal’s office. Somebody who’s over that school. Then immediately — call me.
Amber: And that’s one of the key things she said — not to react. It’s very easy, especially for a child. It’s very difficult for adults. It’s even harder for a child to not react…the kids learn how to, in essence, disguise their facial expressions. And that’s not easy. But it’s very important to teach your child how to do that. Because sometimes their reaction can cause something else to happen.
NBC4: What do you think about the new gun law passed by the state of Ohio?
Amber: Personally I’m not a fan of the new law, and things being signed, and with us becoming an open-carry state. I do see a lot of concern and issues. But there was something [my friend] brought up… Now there’s a new opportunity for instructors who do CCWs. Now it’s not required to have the eight hours…we can start offering a two-hour class, and maybe there’s a series of classes that individuals can take…that can be done in two hours. Even though I may not like it, the reality is it’s here.
Alexis: The more free people are to conceal carry, the higher possibility of a pause…to think: This person could be carrying. I don’t know what this person’s mental state is. Do I want to provoke this person in any kind of confrontational manner? That creates the opportunity for people to take a few steps back and do a mental check.
Rosalind: Or it could go the other way, and people would be ready to pull the trigger…
Alexis: And time will tell. That’s why you join a club, a family, that helps you understand safe handling. Anybody could be carrying. How do we prepare ourselves for that?
Amber: You know, there’s the famous saying that ‘knowledge is power.’ This particular power, and harnessing this power, could save your life.