Tamyka Brown was perfecting her shot. Her target sheet, riddled with bullet holes, showed she knows what she’s doing. When asked about her time on the gun range, Brown responded with a smile.
“Great. It went great,” she said. “Like, I want to go again, but I think I’ma pass and come back next Thursday.”
Brown comes to the range with her husband often. But on a recent Thursday in July she was bonding with other women of color at Sharpshooter's Pit and Grill over guns and targets.
Thursdays are typically ladies' night at the shooting range on Gravois Road near Affon, when practicing on the range is $5. But Brown and other women were attending an event organized by St. Louisan Ohun Ashe.
Ashe said she thought the event would be a good way to help women of color understand more about firearms and gun safety.
“Often we don’t get the same protection and we don’t know how to protect ourselves,” she said. “So I thought it was really important for black women, women of color, to come together and have this experience together while also building community.”
Ashe created a Facebook event to attract people’s interest in something she also enjoys doing. Soon, hundreds of people expressed interest in the event — many of them using the comments section discussing how useful they thought the activity would be for women.
Within minutes of the event’s start time, dozens of women were lined up at the counter at the shooting range signing their waivers and getting directions from range employees. One of those women was first-time shooter Trish Foster.
“I saw it (the event) online on Facebook, and it said it was pretty much empowering black females, so I thought I would try it,” Forster said.
Standing behind her in line, Tinica Reed said she, too, wanted to try her hand at shooting paper targets. But she was looking for a different kind of empowerment, saying that she wanted to learn about guns and shooting for safety purposes.
“I had someone try to steal my car, so I know it’s serious now,” Reed said. “At least let me try to protect myself as much as possible.”
Reed admitted to being fearful about her surroundings, but LaTonya Shields said she is not afraid — with or without a firearm. She said she wanted to attend the event because it seemed like a fun way to relax.
“I purchased a firearm, but I think it’s important to know how to use it,” Shields said. “And so this is just a perfect night to come out with a bunch of girls and be comfortable and be comfortable with the gun.”
Shields said she is one of the only black women in her social circle that owns a gun. But she doesn’t attribute that to race or gender.
“I think gun ownership is a personal choice that doesn’t have anything to do with sex or gender,” she said.
Who owns guns?
Data show there are some gaps in gun ownership along race and gender lines. Notably, a quarter of black people interviewed by The Pew Research Center in a 2017 study said they own a gun. About a third of white people said they own a gun. Researchers interviewed about 4,000 people.
Pew researchers also report about 22 percent of women own guns, but their data does not account for race.
Researcher Ruth Igielnik said while the data does not explain why some people own guns and others do not, interviewers did ask people about their perceptions of guns. She said black people reported more often personally being threatened with a gun or knowing someone who had been shot than other racial groups.
Igielnik said, overall, people who own firearms said they did so for protection rather than recreation; however, researchers quoted in a 2017 Scientific American report propose owning guns doesn’t actually make people safer.
Guns “in these times”
The conversation around guns and gun ownership often changes after tragic mass shootings and major crimes in cities across the country. Gun policies and the collective consciousness around firearms change, too. This is evident in progressively more lenient gun laws in some states, such as Missouri, while other states become stricter. This is also evident in recent legal moves to halt 3D-printed gun programs.
But the women practicing at the St. Louis County shooting range on ladies' night that evening in July were largely not thinking about the national dialogue around guns. They were thinking about their own experiences, their personal fears, interests and local community. That’s what brought them together.
“It’s so important to tackle those things that we are afraid of and that we weren’t taught,” Ashe said. “Protection and being able to protect yourself, especially in these times, is so important.”
Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.