NBC News: Sure, Black Americans Are Buying More Guns, But How Many Own Gun Stores?

AP Photo/Andrew Selsky

It’s a bizarre bit of framing by NBC News, which notes that while gun sales to black Americans increased by more than 50% last year, there are still just a handful of gun stores that are black-owned gun stores.

There are at least 6,000 gun stores in the U.S., according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms trade group. Of those, fewer than 10 are Black-owned, according to the National African American Gun Association, which promotes gun ownership among Black people in the U.S.

And business has never been so good.

Between March 2020 and March 2021, the FBI conducted over 46 million firearm background checks, a prerequisite for purchasing a gun from a store — and a proxy for gun sales. In each of the last four months, over 4 million background checks were conducted.

Yes and no to the idea that business has never been so good. While gun sales soared to record highs in 2020, and we’ve seen continued strong sales in 2021, I wouldn’t say that now is a great time to open up an independent gun shop.

The firearms industry is operating on allocation right now; since the demand for guns and ammo is higher than the supply at the moment, gun stores are getting new firearms and ammunition based on their sales volume. That means bigger stores are getting more product than smaller mom-and-pop shops, and in turn that means that some small stores are struggling to stay afloat even as millions of Americans embrace their Second Amendment rights. As KRTV in Montana pointed out in a story last fall:

In an election year with protests happening across the country, gun sales are on the rise nationwide. But an ammunition shortage has left gun shop owners in Montana in a tough spot.

“I hate it when it’s like this,” said James Mitchell, owner of Mitchell Supply in Great Falls.

Annual gun sales in the U.S. doubled at the beginning of the summer, by more than 130% in July, according to Small Arms Analytics, and they continue to increase. Ammo sales also went up this summer, but many gun shop owners say ammo has been much harder to restock than firearms.

Mitchell said now is a rough time to be in the gun business.

“People want to buy it; we can’t get it, and it just makes it more difficult,” he said. “It’s a nationwide thing. Eventually they’ll catch up, but like I say, it’s going to be pretty ugly here for the next few months.”

That was last September, and it’s still pretty ugly out there for the small independent shops. That may be one reason why, even as the number of black gun owners is on the increase, the number of black gun store owners is still pretty small. Another reason, however, is the hostility towards gun stores in many big cities. You won’t find a single gun store in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, or Chicago, either white or black-owned.

There is at least one new black-owned gun shop getting ready to open for business, however. Ryan Vaden has scheduled the grand opening of Vaden’s Firearms and Ammunition in Indianapolis for early May, though he was hoping to have his storefront up and running this month. Still, a few weeks delay is not that big a deal, considering Vaden’s been planning his shop for close to a decade.

Naysayers called Vaden crazy when he would discuss his goal of owning his own gun shop. But he persevered and used those comments to fuel his dream.

“Just because someone of your color hasn’t done it before doesn’t mean you can’t do it,” said Vaden.

Roughly eight years later, he’s preparing to open Vaden’s Firearms and Ammunition.

“I went down to Marion County to get my fingerprints. A lady asked, ‘Are you the employee?’ I said, ‘No, I’m the owner,’” said Vaden.

Those are words Vaden has waited to say for a long time. His enthusiasm for the Second Amendment goes back as far as he can remember.

He believes this movement is bigger than him. According to NPR, last year there was almost a 60% increase in gun ownership among Black men and womenThat reporting mentioned the pandemic, politics and the racial tone of the country for being the driving force of change. That’s something the Rev. Charles Harrison from Barnes United Methodist Church has seen in his own congregation.

“I know members in my congregation, both men and women, have purchased guns only because they are concerned about their own safety,” said Harrison.

But Vaden believes it’s more than just fear leading to increase in gun sales.

“I think when people are more secure with their product and purchase, the ownership goes up,” said Vaden.

I’d love to see more black gun store owners like Vaden, but in order for that to happen the firearms industry needs to be a little more stable than it is at the moment. Not that NBC News points out any of the reasons why gun store ownership is lagging behind gun sales to black Americans. The story itself isn’t as bad as the headline, but it would have been nice if the news network had at least attempted to explain the market forces at work over the past year.