Militias, Trump, civil war fears prompt gun sales spike for Black Michiganders

A record number of African Americans in Michigan and nationwide are registering for and buying guns this year, in part because of a host of concerns including the pandemic, police violence and fears of civil war. (Shutterstock)

Sharon Spivey-Oliver says she’s experienced more racism than ever in the last few years. 

This summer alone, a former co-worker suggested on Facebook that the Ku Klux Klan quell the Black Lives Matter movement, and a woman told her to “know her place” after cutting in line at a supermarket.

In April, amid the uncertain early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the Detroit woman upgraded her self-defense weapon from a claw hammer to a .38 revolver. Her husband, Vaughn, bought his first firearm as well. 

“Since the new president, there’s been an uptick in people being very confrontational about race relations,” said Spivey-Oliver, 54, who works in cranial prosthesis for people with severe hair loss for Veterans Affairs.  

“I’ve never had the experiences I’m having now. Neither one of us has ever owned guns before, but just seeing the climate made us have to think about the safety of our home.”

She’s among a record number of African Americans in Michigan and nationwide who are buying guns this year in part because of a host of concerns including the pandemic and police violence to fears of civil war and President Donald Trump telling the neo-fascist Proud Boys in a recent debate to “stand back and stand by.”

And that was before this week’s stunning charges that members of a militia group allegedly hatched a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and  overthrow the state government.

Hate crimes are up from 2017 to 2019, and the number of white nationalist groups has increased by 55 percent during that time, according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

“We’ve seen the rise in ultra-right organizations. We’re well aware of the Michigan militia and that Livingston County was the seat of the KKK,” said Mujahid Abdul-Hameed, president of the Malcolm Little Gun Club in Lansing, which is named for the Lansing native who later became Malcolm X.

“We can be targeted even going to the store. I see those cars with Confederate flag license plate holders. It would be ignorant of me not to take precautions.”

He started his gun group for African Americans and other minorities less than two years ago and said membership has “blown up” so fast organizers struggle to keep up.

Firearms sales are soaring nationwide amid the pandemic and social upheaval this year.

In Michigan alone, background checks have doubled this year to 500,000,  according to Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. National background checks hit a monthly record of 3.7 million in March, and checks for the rest of the year outpace those of 2019, according to the National Criminal Investigative Service

The shooting sports group said African-American buyers represent the largest demographic increase in gun sales in 2020, and found that 40 percent of all firearm purchases are to first-time gun owners. 

That bucks historical demographics of gun owners, who have typically been male and white: More than one third of whites reported they are gun owners in 2017, compared to 24 percent for Blacks and 15 percent of Hispanics, according to the Pew Research Center.

From the pandemic and police protests to fears about white nationalists and unrest following the presidential election, Black Michiganders are afraid, said Al Williams, president of the African American Leadership Institute in Detroit.

“I am walking on eggshells when thinking about what could be when it comes to a civil war,” said Williams. “In Michigan, [Trump] has some really deep roots of people who have been waiting for a moment like this for decades.”

‘We have seen how tides have turned’ 

Gun sales typically surge during presidential election years, as citizens prepare for new policies that may affect Second Amendment rights, said Olivia of the shooting sports group. 

But the 2020 sales are unprecedented. He speculates there could be a record 20 million background checks by the end of the year.

civil unrest

Detroit firearms trainer Rick Ector teaches a student to shoot firearms. Gun purchases among African Americans have skyrocketed in Michigan this year. (Courtesy photo)

This spike in gun purchases is pronounced in metro Detroit, said Rick Ector, CEO of Detroit Carry and Conceal, a gun safety training company. 

He said the alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer is proof that anyone can be targeted.

“As such, it is imperative that everyone be alert and vigilant from evil people who wish to harm us,” said Ector, adding that he’s seen the largest increase in gun purchases is among African Americans and women.

Since March, membership in the Black Bottom Gun Club in Detroit has surged to 200 from 53, said Chad King, president of the group and Midwestern regional director for the National African American Gun Association.

Nationally, the group’s membership has grown by more than 30,000 and has an online following of nearly 90,000 people. Other Michigan chapters are in Flint,  Grand Rapids and in Lansing, which Abdul-Hameed said has more than 50 members.

He pointed out that, historically, the government has restricted access of African Americans to firearms.

After the Civil War, southern states passed “Black Codes” that banned African Americans from owning firearms, while Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, in 1967 signed one of the first modern gun control laws in response to the Black Panthers carrying guns.

In Michigan, county gun boards issued concealed weapons permits until 2001, which in Ingham County, meant that gun owners had to plead their case in Charlotte, a city that is 96 percent white. 

“They weren’t interested in giving [concealed weapons permits] to minorities even though you met the letter of the law,” said Abdul-Hameed, who attributes the increase in gun registrations to African Americans being “aware of their rights” and watching the news.

“It’s not African Americans going into big box stores and attacking minorities,” he said. “We’re the ones on the defense and we understand that.

“I don’t want to call it fear. I want to call it educated caution. We have been struggling in this country for 400 years. We have seen how tides have turned.”

‘So much hate’

Norman Young of Grand Rapids has owned a gun for three years and delivers Amazon packages as a side job. He said he sometimes worries making deliveries in rural areas, where he said he’s seen people practicing shooting AR-15s in their front yards.

“I’ve seen so much hate,” said Young, 30, a fatherhood program coordinator for the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District. “I’ve been called some nasty things. It’s scary.”

Conversations with friends and family have increased all year since the  February murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was pursued and shot by white residents in rural Georgia.

Young said his father asked him for a firearm following the shooting.

“My dad has never had a gun since he’s been out of [the Vietnam] War,” he said. “That’s what he wanted to do for Father’s Day this year.”

When the pandemic gun shortages proved to be an obstacle, Young delayed his purchase. But after Trump’s comments about the Proud Boys, Young said his father is buying a firearm. 

Nakia-Renne Wallace, a co-founder and organizer of the Detroit Will Breathe protests, said she has never felt safe as a Black person, and Trump’s remarks evoked images of Nazis storming Jewish ghettos.

“What that means to me is that he’s going to send these Proud Boys who have been running drills throughout the country for months to go into Black and brown communities to control with fear and terror and violence,” she said.

After militia members were charged Thursday, Whitmer accused Trump of “fomenting anger” with his rhetoric, energizing groups like those linked to the kidnapping plot

“Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke but as a rallying cry, as a call to action,” she said. 

Trump had none of it on Twitter, accusing Democrats of being soft on Antifa and others that “burn down Democrat run cities.”

I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence. Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President!” Trump tweeted late Thursday.

‘Prepare yourself’

In an October U.S. Department of Homeland Security report, analysts  raised concerns that polling places and voter registration events could become “flash points for potential violence.”  

In its Antigovernment Movement report, the Southern Poverty Law Center sounded alarms about increased militia activity in the wake of a Democratic win, partially due to fears about new gun control measures. 

Spivey-Oliver said her concerns come from the bare shelves and crowds of people she saw stocking up on weapons and ammunition when she went to purchase her gun at a Detroit pawn shop. 

She said she wonders whether the increase in firearm purchases will play a role in civil unrest come November. 

“I believe that some people are preparing themselves for some type of race war,” she said.

Williams said much is at stake in the election and nothing extreme would surprise him.

 “I think everybody in Detroit and every African American should be on alert at least and preparing themselves just in case,” he said. 

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Doug L
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 9:13am

Both Biden and Harris have promised to ignore the second amendment and try to seize popular guns, and make it difficult to legally purchase guns. This is a big reason why gun sales are booming at this time. When you make it clear that you plan on violating a person's rights, they are prone to exercise that right.

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 2:26pm

No...they did not. They are both against AUTOMATIC weapons--and for good damn reason. Who actually NEEDS the ability to mow down dozens of people a second in civilian life? People who are up to no good...and those are the people who are spreading this crap around--the people who want to have the ability to obtain weapons that allow them to kill MASSES of people in mere seconds.

I don't mean to be rude, but you really should look into the facts about what you are told before you spread the information around as if it were truth...unless you are intentionally doing it.

Charlie Day
Fri, 10/16/2020 - 6:40pm

You are way, way, way off.
The most dangerous weapons in this country are the non-semi-automatic ones. NO ONE has automatic weapons - The only ones in this country are ones which existed before the 1986 ban, they cost upwards of $50,000, and almost all of them are in the hands of gun ranges that keep them under lock and key when they aren't charging people insane prices to shoot them in the closed-off range.
A 12 guage shotgun, or a deer rifle, can kill multiple people with one bullet. Your average deer rifle can do this from hundreds of yards away - Something that an AR-15 could never come close to. The AR-15 was designed specifically to wound, not kill. This is why they are popular for sport shooting at ranges - Light, cheap to shoot, fun to shoot, but the best offensive weapon is always the old fashioned hunting weapon which was designed to KILL.
If you wanted to kill MASSES of people in mere seconds, the hunting rifle will always be the most effective choice. You can 3-D print high capacity magazines for them so that they hold just as many bullets as an AR-15, or more!
So stop your uninformed rambling. You are spreading false information here.

Trump Rubbish
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 3:22pm

That's what you said about Obama/Biden. It never happened.

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 4:22pm

And this is what traitor trump who has never told the truth in his life told you!!!

Matt G
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 6:57pm

Is the right to bear arms unlimited in your opinion? Should people have the right to own any type of arms?

jane thomas
Tue, 10/20/2020 - 9:40pm

That is patently NOT TRUE. Biden himself is not for overly strict gun controls, and both Biden and Harris are mostly for careful background checks. The only firearms under discussion here are automatic weapons----guns necessary in battle. And every single presidential election I have experienced (and it has been many) has seen gun sales booming. And that's because a new administration makes gun owners nervous about what might happen. And frankly, nothing much has EVER happened to our ability to buy and use firearms.

Rnady Huey
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 9:28am

When you quote the Southern Poverty Law Center several time is this article you reveal your bias against Conservatives and President Trump.
It is a good thing that so many Americans are taking advantage of their 2nd Amendment right

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 2:31pm

Quoting a source in an article that is ABOUT something that source specializes in is NOT's reporting.

The article itself may be a bias TOPIC to you, but that does not mean that the writer is showing bias simply because they went to, interviewed and quoted the best source of information on the topic being reported...this is basic journalism...hell, this is basic 9th grade English writing rules. Sheesh.

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 4:20pm

SPLC is a true Leftwing hat group!

jane thomas
Tue, 10/20/2020 - 9:44pm

Unbelievable. If you actually think that, you must be so far right you could be on the FBI list of, well, you know.

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 4:23pm

seems that you did not read to well>>> or you would be having fits>>> Black people are going to fight back this time>>> any you KKK member may just be killed NOT them!!!!

Matt G
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 6:55pm

Classic nonsense post attacking the source and not the argument.

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 9:34am

the increasing "up-arming" of civilian society is a very frightening trend. With higher and higher rates of firearm ownership spurred by fears of "the OTHER" and the wide spread increase in private ownership of near-military-type weaponry; it is like spreading gasoline around the floors of a dynamite factory. It seems to be turning into and internal domestic arms race turning neighborhood against neighborhood very much in parallel to the USA?USSR nuclear arms race of the Cold War Era. the difference being that our population is filled with Dr Strangeloves.

So true
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 3:31pm

This fearmongering to sell more and more guns is the civilian version of Eisenhower's warnings bout the military industrial complex.

George Hagenauer
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 9:34am

We will see an increase in accidental gun injuries and deaths. Something I haven't seen and which should exist is a correlational study between loose gun laws like conceal carry, a high number of guns in circulation and the rise over time in police shooting civilians. Granted police violence can have a wide range of reasons. In the Chicago area some police shootings were actually cases where street gangs contracted law enforcement to take out rivals or create solutions to unsolved crimes. Overall though , you would expect that police who are the most cognizant of the large number of firearms (Most of the firearms confiscated in crimes in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas were bought legally- The NRA and the Republicans have made similar studies more difficult) and the ease at which people not only get them but carry them openly, would cause the police to react quicker with their own firearms. It would be interesting to see if that is the case.

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 2:39pm

Good points. I believe that there are studies and correlations available, but they aren't being released to the general public.
The failure to make such information public does justify/support fears that the recent events are being at least somewhat orchestrated to result in civil unrest (as we are experiencing now). Just one big cycle of fear...
This is why we need to eliminate racist fear (and racism) from our system--to reduce the amount of fear bias that police have against black folks and other folks of color. Reduce the fear of blacks and reduce the number of black people killed by cops...why are republicans so against this???

Charlie Day
Fri, 10/16/2020 - 6:42pm

George, if that were true, we would have already seen it. Obama was the best gun salesman we've ever had. Biden, by current numbers, is only the second best. If your statement was true we would have seen a proportional increase in accidential injuries and deaths after the Obama-era buying panic, and we did not. So go back and put that liberal thinking cap on and try again. When all else fails, just blame Trump for everything.

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 10:45am

You failed to quote Trump renouncing both liberal and far right groups. None of this would have happened if the liberal media had not fomented fear and not presented all the facts just like you just did. It’s a sad time for our nation.

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 2:42pm

Ok, you need to realize that ANTIFA is NOT a is an idea. This was determined by Trump's own FBI...
Antifa is the idea that fascism is NOT ok.

Joel Kurth
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 3:28pm

The article included a quote from Trump condemning violence of all persuasions. From the article:

“I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence. Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President!” Trump tweeted late Thursday.

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 3:37pm

But we all know Trump sees fine people on both sides.... The "liberal media is fomenting fear"? Wow that guy must have his ears checked, the fearmongering of Blacks invading the suburbs is more of bullhorn than a dog whistle.

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 4:26pm

He also said "stand by, stand ready"!!!!!
13 of his nazi bascker were arrested !!!!

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 10:50pm

You have it right Frank! Liberal media rarely tells the entire story, leaves facts out, depicts a leftist perspective and takes phrases out of context.

Tue, 10/13/2020 - 12:15pm

Trump has attacked minorities and pushed a false equivalency his entire presidency. In 2017, Trump famously said there were "very fine people" marching alongside those carrying tiki torches, swastika flags, and chanting "Jews will not replace us." He has been attempting to ban Muslims since he got into office. He claimed a the American-born federal judge presiding over the Trump University case was biased because of his Mexican heritage. He has offered starkly different responses to social unrest; black football players taking a knee to protest police brutality are "sons of b*tches" but armed white men marching on Lansing to protest lockdowns are patriots. He told members of the squad to go back where they came from, even though 3 of 4 were born in the US. Just earlier this month, Trump did such a bad job denouncing the Proud Boys that they took his words as a rallying cry and started printing t-shirts that said "Stand Back and Stand By."

Even before his presidency, there are stories that highlight Trump's lifelong history of racism. He lost a housing discrimination lawsuit back in the 70's. He called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five in the 80's (even after they were exonerated, Trump still insisted they were guilty). He attacked Native Americans attempting to build casinos in the 90's. He spearheaded the whole Obama birther movement in the 10's.

The truth is, Trump will never take any reasonable action against white-nationalist and white supremacist groups because they make up a large part of his base. When his supporters say "Trump tells it like it is", they really mean "Trump hates the same people I hate."

Linda Cook MacDonald
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 12:20pm

Excellent article. But I hope the editorial board will consider the name you give militias . Priviate militias are ILLEGAL in the state of Michigan. They are also really terror organizations. They are not just one more group doing their thing.

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 4:53pm

A number of facts are left out of this article. First the surge in firearms purchases started with the onset of Covid 19 in Feb and March and before the BLM riots and Police misconduct issue came up. (I'm not sure the connection with the virus.) Second, it has been across all ethnic groups and especially a lot of women first time purchasers. Much of the recent surge in gun/ammo purchases is in concern of the Biden Harris ticket's stated positions on gun ownership. Beto in charge of gun policy, Harris' comments on executive action and Biden Democrat positions advocating a ban semi-automatic firearms and stated wish to bankrupt the firearms industry. People see and always have seen firearms as a basic SHTF precaution, not as the garbage SPLC insinuates getting ready for a race war.

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 10:39pm

Trump was asked by Wallace, as a matter of needless repetition (see same question from 2016 debate by Wallace), would he “. . ..condemn white supremacy and militia groups . . . ask them to stand down.” Trump was using Wallace’s genre of words “stand down”, “stand back” to condemn. It was an argumentative moment with interruptions from Trump and Wallace when Trump listed “stand by.” An apparent listing mistake that anyone who watched the debate could understand his ENTIRE meaning. It wasn’t an invite or “rally cry.” Trump clarified the next day to stand down and let law enforcement do their job. Trump has been asked and has answered multiples times if he condemns KKK, hate groups, etc. He does condemn them. Does the media or Bridge ever list Biden’s miscommunications/snafus (what state he is in, if he is running for Senate or President, etc.) Does the media or Bridge ever report on Biden’s racist history? His KKK mentor, track record on race relations, etc.

Wed, 10/14/2020 - 9:56am

' It wasn’t an invite or “rally cry.”'

Someone should tell that to the Proud Boys then because they took Trump's words and started printing them on t-shirts. How do you mess up denouncing a hate group so bad that they took it as a rallying cry?

Trump's condemnation of white supremacy and militia groups is almost always followed by a "both sides" argument in an attempt to downplay the actions of his supporters.

Trump is asked about white supremacy groups so many times because Trump emboldens these groups by his words and actions. Look at Charlottesville when he referred to the people marching alongside those carrying tiki-torches, swastika flags, and chanting "Jews will not replace us" as "very fine people" and pushed the "both sides" argument. He retweeted a video from one of his rallies of a man on a golf cart who was shouting "white power." He told four elected US House of Representative members to "go back" where they came from, even though 3 of 4 were born in the US and the EEOC literally uses this phrase as an example of discrimination and illegal harassment. He claimed the American-born judge presiding over the Trump University case was biased because of his Mexican heritage. He has had starkly different responses to protests: black football players taking a knee are "sons of b*tches" but heavily armed white men storming the capitol are patriots and need to "LIBERATE MICHIGAN".

Tue, 10/13/2020 - 1:15pm

Trump answered Wallace’s question with Wallace’s own wording. “Will you ask white supremacists and militia groups to STAND down?” Trump said stand back and stand by not as a “rally cry” or an invite to violence. The exchange the two had was heated, argumentative, quick and interrupted by both men. Trump listed STAND down references, his meaning was clear that he was (once again) condemning ALL racism. He clarified the next day to “stand back and allow law enforcement to do their work.” Wallace asked same question in the 2016 debate. Media rarely calls out Biden’s misspoken snafus or his KKK mentor or his record on race relations.

Evel Knievel
Tue, 10/13/2020 - 5:39pm

"Michigan's nonpartisan, nonprofit news source" - I spit coffee all over my keyboard from laughing so hard at that ridiculous statement. Obvious partisanship, fear mongering and race baiting make the Bridge no different from the lame stream media.

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 11:55am

Just look at what we've become. We used to be a beautiful tourist State, a hunters "up North" paradise. Now we are the state of nuts and gun owners. Our reputation is "dangerous". Think about what you are saying and doing to us.

Charlie Day
Fri, 10/16/2020 - 6:37pm

I'm really sorry but your title is completely incorrect.
Blacks are buying guns because of the left - Not the right. If the news said that the right was winning, everyone would feel safe. Because you are continually reporting on leftist narratives, you are in part responsible for this gun buying panic - And we thank you for it! I totally support everyone's right to own and bear arms, and I am so glad that you have done your part in helping to influence so many first time buyers!

jane thomas
Tue, 10/20/2020 - 9:53pm

You are really turned around, aren't you? The truth is exactly the opposite what you are claiming here.
Most black and brown people are not afraid of the lefties. And they are buying guns because they are
AFRAID the far right is winning. I'm a white woman, and I'm afraid the far right is winning. That's why I
have a gun. And can hit a target.