Twenty-five-year-old Marchelle Tigner has been a victim, and she refuses to be a victim ever again.
“I’m a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, and I feel like what else is there that I could do other than this to impact all these people’s lives and help them and make sure no other woman becomes a victim like I was?” Tigner, a firearms instructor from Georgia, told The Root. “It’s happening too frequently where women are easy prey, and I want us to not be easy prey anymore.”
The Army veteran and owner of Trigger Happy Firearm Instruction is very candid about her experiences and her determination to arm herself and pass on her knowledge to others like her. And she is part of what appears to be a national trend: black women arming themselves, determined to not go down—not without a fight.
More and more black women are taking self-defense seriously—intent on protecting themselves, their property and their loved ones—and as a result, many are turning to firearms as a means to that end.
In a paper titled “Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States: 2016,” John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center noted that although whites still hold the majority of permits, the number of black permit holders grew more than twice as quickly as that of whites.
“Concealed carry has increased most rapidly among black females,” Lott found. “From 2000 to 2015, the rate of growth was 3.81 times faster than among white females.”
The National African American Gun Association, one of many black gun groups that have grown exponentially over the past few years, is mostly made up of women—60 percent of its membership, to be precise.
“I thought when I initially started the organization that there’d be a lot more black men joining to revisit some of the social obstacles and challenges that we have in terms of firearms, but it’s been black woman that have been driving a lot of our growth, and that’s across the board,” Philip Smith, president of NAAGA, said.
“Every day, every week, every month, more and more black woman consistently, from a percentage standpoint, join our organization versus black men, and I really think it’s because of some of the issues that black women have to face specifically based on their position in American society,” he added.
Crime in respective communities across the nation is definitely one key factor.
“I think a lot of women are realizing that ‘Wow, I can’t even go to the gas station without somebody trying to assault me or rob me,’” Nezida Davis, a legal counsel to NAAGA, said.
“I think there’s this rising fear among women because a lot of women are out there, they work, they go to the grocery store, they take their children out and they’re by themselves many times, and they need to find a way to protect themselves,” she said.
Heightened racism and the rise of white nationalism in this political climate certainly haven’t helped, either.
“During this American history class there … was a video [shown] of back in slavery time when the KKK … would come into homes and kick the doors in and drag out the men, and the women just kind of cower in a corner and cry. … And that spoke to me on so many different levels,” said Laura Manning, a Georgia State University student who’s taken gun courses with Tigner in the past.
“I have three young adult sons,” said Manning, “and the only thing I could think of was, ‘Oh, my God, are we getting ready to go back to those times?’ And there’s no way in the world that I could see my sons being pulled out of my house.”
In addition to the current political climate leading more African Americans to take up arms, black gun ownership in general is largely up, according to a 2014 Pew survey that shows 19 percent of black adults saying that they owned a gun, in comparison with the 15 percent from 2013. Another 2014 survey shows that the mentality of black adults around guns is also evolving, with a whopping 54 percent saying that they believed owning a gun makes people safer, when, just two years earlier, only 29 percent believed that to be true.
However, Tigner stresses that guns are a responsibility she takes seriously and that she imposes a heavy dose of respect for the weapon upon her students, letting them know that this is not a game.
“I know if I get into an argument with someone, I do have a deadly weapon on me and I could take their life. That makes me even more cautious when I get into a situation like that; it makes me want to de-escalate the situation even more because I know this argument is not worth somebody’s life,” Tigner said.
“I’m only going to defend myself, and I’m only teaching you how to defend yourself if there’s a threat of deadly force,” she said. “If someone is physically harming you or about to physically harm you, then that’s the only time you’d need to use a firearm. So respect the weapon. I know what it can do. I know what it’s capable of. I’m not going to carry it around and use it based off of emotions.”
“This is not going to be the go to. This is going to be the last resort. My life is in danger,” Manning said. “You have to know that you know what you’re doing because this is too serious to just carelessly play around with it.”