P.B. Gomez is a 23-year-old law student at the UC Berkeley School of Law interested in urban environmental justice policy. He’s also the founder of the Latino Rifle Association (LRA), a politically progressive organization for Latino gun owners with left-leaning values who want to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
“Gun culture in the United States is largely toxic, and it’s not welcoming,” said Gomez. And he believes gun rights are for everyone: “I don’t believe self defense, which is fundamentally about bodily autonomy, should be exclusive to people on the right politically.”
The LRA website states membership is open to all racial groups so long as its mission and rules are respected. Since its formation in 2020, the LRA has attracted several hundred members across the U.S.
“Our biggest supporters have actually been leftists, have been socialists, progressives. You sort of have to have a distrust of authority. The police and the government aren’t taking care of me, so I have to do things on my own,” Gomez explained.
Gomez told CBS News that the August 3, 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso pushed him to start the LRA. “[It was] just horrific. A white supremacist going into Walmart and mass-murdering people explicitly to try to create fear to drive Latinos out of the country,” he said.
The shooting was the deadliest attack against Latinos in recent U.S. history. But Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocating against gun violence, says more guns are not the solution. It says mass shootings are largely preventable through “evidence-based policy interventions” such as universal background checks and red flag laws that enable courts to revoke an individual’s access to guns temporarily.
Gomez sees gun regulations specifically impacting communities of color by increasing the potential for unfavorable interactions with police. “Any time you’re giving additional laws to enforce, additional felonies on the book, it’s going to impact communities of color the hardest,” he said.
Latino Rifle Association member Jackie Garcia decided to start carrying a gun last year.
Garcia and her wife, Talia, who is biracial, recently moved to a more diverse suburb of Dallas to start a family, but still feel the impact of bias. “My wife notices the stares more than I do,” Garcia said.
It was the tension surrounding the 2020 elections that prompted Garcia to train and purchase a gun. “It was very nerve-wracking. All that pressure building up, it made me a little nervous for sure,” Garcia said. Today, she carries a firearm whenever she’s out of the house. “I’m a very peaceful person, but if people won’t let me walk away, I will defend myself.”
Garcia and Gomez are part of a growing trend in gun ownership and gun-rights activism among people of color and other underrepresented communities.
“We have seen a dramatic rise in the number of groups that support gun rights for LGBTQ people, for people of color, and other left-leaning groups in recent years,” Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, told CBS News. “However, we should still put it in context. Those groups are still few and far between.”
The National African American Gun Association reported a spike in membership since the 2016 elections and now has 30,000 members nationwide.
A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found 36% of Whites said they personally own a gun compared with 24% of Blacks and 15% of Hispanics. But gun ownership has surged since then.
In 2020, of roughly 8.5 million first-time gun buyers, 40% were women, and purchases made by Black Americans increased 56% compared to 2019.
One of the pandemic’s enduring legacies will be more Americans with guns. “When your life gets turned upside down and you feel that the things that you rely on for security and safety just don’t seem to be there anymore, there’s more interest in purchasing a gun,” explained Winkler.
Nick Bezzel is an Army veteran based in Austin, Texas, and founder of the Elmer Geronimo Pratt Gun Club, an organization advocating for Black Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights. The gun club is named after a high-ranking member of the Black Panther Party during the 1960s and ’70s who spent 27 years in prison before his murder conviction was overturned. The club did not want to disclose membership numbers but said it has seen a dramatic rise in interest since 2020.
“Everybody’s entitled to self-preservation. I don’t care who it is,” Bezzel told CBS News. “I don’t advocate violence, but I do advocate self-defense.”
In May, Bezzel and several other groups organized hundreds of Black gun owners from around the country to march in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, when a White mob destroyed the prosperous neighborhood of Greenwood, also known as Black Wall Street. Although some members of the Black Greenwood community back then were armed, between 75 and 300 residents were brutally killed by the mob.
“We can’t talk about Black self-defense without Tulsa, Oklahoma, being mentioned,” said Bezzel.
After the murder of George Floyd, people around the world responded by taking to the streets in protest. Bezzel argues that being armed “evens the playing field.”
“‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ What you’re telling the police is, ‘I’m unarmed, the people around me are unarmed. You can brutalize us.’ When we go out, we’re armed. The police say, ‘It’s not worth it to engage those guys,'” he said.
Winkler noted the Tulsa armed march was a powerful display of support for the idea that Black Americans need to defend themselves —”that they can’t rely on the White government to really protect them, or the police force.”
But he’s concerned that too many groups are taking up arms and openly carrying them to air grievances. “[It’s] probably destructive of political debate and the kind of community that we need to move forward on the major issues that confront America,” said Winkler.
The Elmer Geronimo Pratt Gun Club is involved in political issues beyond the Second Amendment and gun training. The group works with Austin’s homeless community and is part of a national push for reparations. But gun rights remain central to its mission.
“If they’re killing people now and we have guns, imagine what would happen if we didn’t have them,” Bezzel said. “Our only means is to protect ourselves with firearms.”