Black gun ownership in America dates back to before the country's founding.
Firearms helped aid Nat Turner's rebellion against white enslavers.
Harriet Tubman famously carried her pistol along the Underground Railroad.
Civil rights leaders felt it was necessary to arm themselves against potential racial violence: from journalist Ida B. Wells insisting that every Black home be equipped with a Winchester rifle ... to Martin Luther King, Jr. trying to obtain a concealed carry license.
And in recent years, more Black Americans are buying guns.
Chicago-based photographer Christian Lee wanted to present a specific picture of Black gun ownership. He called his project "Armed Doesn't Mean Dangerous."
And he set out to photograph Black gun owners in his hometown.
Many African Americans in urban communities have shown interest in the Second Amendment due to a need for survival, rather than an obsession with guns.
"There is a higher crime rate when people cannot work and earn," says Chicago resident Angela Ross Williams. The 67-year-old became a gun owner out of necessity to protect herself from crime in the city. Angela says that she's experienced slow police response times, which has lowered her trust in local law enforcement to protect her against crime.
The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence supports Williams' claim. Its research concludes that the root cause of gun violence is poverty and lack of opportunity, among other factors.
African Americans have used firearms throughout history to defend against the woes of racism and poverty.
In 1921, a group of armed Black World War I veterans came to the aid of a community member who was in danger of being lynched by an angry white mob at the Tulsa County Courthouse. The veterans were asked to leave by the sheriff. But the site of armed Black residents enraged the mob so much that a fight ensued, leading to the start of the Tulsa Race massacre.
Decades later, in 1967, California introduced the Mulford Act, which targeted members of the Black Panther Party. The members had been conducting neighborhood armed patrols they said were meant to protect Black communities from police brutality, as described by Bobby Seale in 1968.
Vanessa Leroy photo edited this story.
Follow Christian K. Lee on Instagram: @chrisklee_jpeg
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Black gun ownership in America goes back centuries. Firearms helped aid Nat Turner's rebellion against white enslavers. Harriet Tubman famously carried her pistol along the Underground Railroad. Later, civil rights leaders felt it was necessary to arm themselves against potential racial violence, from journalist Ida B. Wells insisting that every Black home be equipped with a Winchester rifle to Martin Luther King Jr., who tried to obtain a concealed carry license. And in recent years, more Black Americans are buying guns.
Chicago-based photographer Christian Lee wanted to present a specific picture of Black gun ownership. He called his project "Armed Doesn't Mean Dangerous," and he set out to photograph Black gun owners in his hometown. You can see those pictures on npr.org. When I spoke to Christian Lee earlier, he told me that he found some of the people to photograph for this project at gun ranges.
CHRISTIAN LEE: Yeah. I always tell people one of the hardest things to do is to walk into a white gun range and ask, hey, where is your Black gun owners?
LEE: And interesting enough, you know, those people were very helpful to me, you know? And I found - I ended up finding one owner that introduced me to another owner. And then I just found myself immersed into - in the community. I really wanted to make sure that I was hearing directly from the mouths of people instead of what I was seeing on TV.
CHANG: I am curious, Christian, are you, yourself, a gun owner? Did you grow up learning how to shoot guns?
LEE: So interesting story. I grew up in a household where my father was a Vietnam-era veteran. And he was a Chicago-area police officer. However, we lived in one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Chicago. So it wasn't until I joined the military and moved to Texas that I actually saw firearms be used in a positive way. The Army is what put the gun in my hand for the first time, right? But it was living in Texas, not necessarily the Army, that I actually saw hunters, that I actually saw, you know, people that just wanted to protect their home, which is directly opposite to what I saw in TV and news in Chicago, where I saw was mostly depicted as criminals. And I set off to conduct my own research to determine why.
CHANG: Can you describe this photography project? Because people who are listening may not have a chance to look at these photos (laughter) - right? - as they're listening to us.
CHANG: Maybe describe, like, one photo that you feel is particularly emblematic?
LEE: There's an image - so most of the images I take - I made portraits using a 4-by-5 camera. And it was one image that I took, it was in a forest with the gun owner and his son. And he's, you know, holding his son near him. The father and the son is embracing. You could see that this firearm is almost being, like, passed down in a responsible manner. Those were the images that I was not seeing growing up in my hometown. I wanted to make sure I expanded the archive of African American gun ownership in our country.
CHANG: That is Chicago-based photographer Christian Lee talking about his new project called "Armed Doesn't Mean Dangerous." You can see the people he's been telling us about at npr.org. Thank you so much, Christian.
LEE: Thank you for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF 9TH WONDER'S "SEASON COURAGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.