Samantha Sorillo is at a shooting range showing off her guns for the BBC.
“This is my AR15,” she says. “It doesn’t have any of the toys that most people put on their ARs but it gets the job done.” She also owns a Glock 43, a sub-compact 9 millimeter, and a Canik — also a 9 millimeter.
Sorillo is vice president of the Miami-based Black Arms Gun Club, one of the newest gun clubs in the U.S. for African Americans. It’s part of the National African-American Gun Association network, which has grown since 2015 from 800 members to 20,000. The network is for all African American firearm owners, gun clubs and outdoor enthusiasts.
Only about half as many African-American households have guns as white ones – 19 percent compared to 41 percent. Attitudes toward guns are divided along racial lines. Sixty percent of black voters favor more gun control, while 61 percent of white voters seek more gun rights.
Unarmed black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than unarmed white men, the Washington Post reported.
NAAGA identifies as a civil rights organization focused on self-preservation, according to the Black Arms Facebook page.
The Black Arms Gun Club says it welcomes people from any background who support the group’s goals — that every African American be introduced to firearm use for home protection. It especially welcomes African American members of law enforcement and active or retired military.
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Unlike the mostly white male National Rifle Association membership, NAAGA is diverse in both color and gender. Its membership is 60 percent female, Christian Science Monitor reported in July.
The election of Donald Trump and his empowerment of far-right groups led to a surge of African American gun clubs, according to gun club leaders and firearm sellers.
“African Americans have issues that other demographics cannot identify with,” Sorillo told BBC. “Especially when it comes to firearms. Being an African American woman, there are issues that I identify with that other demographics cannot identify with.”
Sorillo said she goes over gun safety every day. “That’s why I’m here at the gun range,” she said. “…to make sure that if I have to defend myself, I will hit my target.”
In the last 18 months the racial tone of the U.S. has moved in an alarming direction, said Atlanta resident Phillip Smith in a CSM interview. “For African Americans, we’re seeing the same old faces, the same type of conversations we saw in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and we thought they were dead and gone.”
White Americans pushed the liberalization of gun laws in the past decade, said Jennifer Carlson, a gun culture expert at the University of Arizona. Black gun carry is becoming a test of constitutional agency, injecting what Carlson calls the specter of “legitimate violence” into an already tense political climate, according to CSM:
“Incidents like the June acquittal of the Minnesota police officer who shot Philando Castile, a legal gun owner, during a traffic stop have added to that tension, gun owners like Smith say – as did the NRA’s silence over both his shooting and the verdict.”
Can African-Americans expect to be protected by the Second Amendment in a country still racked with racism?
“It is saddening and troubling how much hopelessness there must be to make such a massive shift to decide guns might be a necessary answer” to a documented rise in overt racism, said Nancy Beck Young, a political historian at the University of Houston.
Black-owned gun shops have seen business increase in the last six months.
Louis Dennard told CSM he’s worried that racist stereotypes will become law under a president who challenged former President Barack Obama’s citizenship is basing his legacy on dismantling the work of the country’s first black president.
Sorillo wants her face to be seen.
“The media portrays African Americans a lot of times in a negative way, so it’s important that they see my face and others, to show that we’re training and we’re responsible gun owners,” she said.
The National African American Gun Association South Florida has 50 members, according to Meetup.com:
“Even If you don’t own a firearm yet, but always wanted to get into shooting we’re open to you as well. The first time shooter is actually a valued member in this group so come join us. The focus of the group will be basic firearms training.”