Though most guns were bought by people who already had at least one, about a quarter were bought by first-timers, according to the Northwestern study. Those new owners were more likely to be Black.

Given the timing of the second surge, James Druckman, a Northwestern political science professor who worked on the study, said many purchases were likely driven by concern over police violence. But Mark Oliva of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group whose own survey found an increase in Black gun buying, said he believed the increase was motivated by more people worrying about personal safety after riots and increased crime.

“It became very apparent to people that you have to be your own first responder,” he said.

Yvette Farmer, 58, who lives on the South Side of Chicago, said she bought a 9 mm pistol last year because of the “craziness” happening in the city.
“Bullets don’t have names,” she said at a concealed carry class in the Chatham neighborhood. “They can go anywhere. If you learn how to use something you’re better prepared.”

Two dozen students in the class handled replica pistols and practiced their grips, shooting stances and the fine points of armed confrontation.

“Look through that gun, look through it,” instructor Mike Brown, a former police officer, commanded as the students extended their faux pistols toward pretend attackers. “Imagine that that deadly threat is in front of you and you are trying to stop that threat. Don’t look at the gun — look through the gun at the threat.”

Brown said students come to him because of fear of crime (especially carjackings), as well as concerns over racist violence and unrest. But he added that Chicagoans who arm themselves should be wary of a city government that is aggressive about seizing guns.

For example, he said, people with firearm owner identification cards are frequently arrested for failing to also have a concealed carry license (both are required to carry a gun). He chalked up the omission to a lack of education, but said the consequences seem to land most heavily on Black people.

“When there is a politically driven (effort) to eliminate guns, you’re going to see overreaches in how the police tend to treat a certain class of citizens,” he said. “And that’s definitely what I’m seeing here.” 

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