It’s not difficult to spot Charles Weston’s 40-foot-long, bright, yellow Drum Magazines sign on his brand-new firearm and accessory store in Kansas City.
He says you can see it from both sides of I-70 going toward Independence. You can also see what Weston said is the most important part of the logo: the Black fist of empowerment holding a handgun with a drum magazine attached to it. A drum magazine holds ammunition and can be attached to guns to increase the amount of rounds they can hold.
“It’s the same way you see Muhammad Ali at the Olympics with his fist up,” Weston said, “only it’s the modern day and age with a handgun and a drum on it.” Weston said he wanted to make it very clear that Drum Magazines is a Black-owned company.
Weston is one of only two African-American gun dealers in Missouri. The only other African-American gun dealer in Missouri, Dwayne Franklin, started his online business, Franklin Firearms, last year.
Weston’s business, focusing on high-capacity magazines, has been operating online for the last five years. He just opened his store front in June. Since his opening, Weston said one of his biggest challenges has been keeping inventory in stock, because his sales have been brisk.
Weston said the demand is increasing because of the panic and civil uprisings happening across the country. He said people want to be safe just in case something bad happens.
“People who would have never had one before now have firearms and I don’t blame them,” he said.
And he’s right. The day after George Floyd’s death, ammunition store Ammo.com saw a 260% increase in traffic through their partnership with the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA) and its members. NAAGA also saw about 2,000 new people join the association within 36 hours after Floyd’s death. Both moves, say the gun distributors, was in response to growing concern for safety.
Overall, between 2012 and 2018, the percent of Black people with gun permits grew 20% faster than White people gaining gun permits, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center.
Even Missouri’s Franklin Firearms saw a 200% increase in sales since the COVID-19 pandemic started and business is still booming, Franklin said. And most of those sales are from African Americans, who are taking their business to Black-owned gun stores.
Franklin said he’s heard the story too many times from his Black clientele who say some White gun dealers just won’t sell to them or that they treated them unfairly. He has also been there himself, before he became a gun dealer. It’s what inspired him to start Franklin Firearms.
“I don't want other people like me, that look like me, to have to go through something like that, because it felt bad,” Franklin said. It’s also why he mentors other African Americans in Missouri on how they can obtain their Federal Firearms License and become a gun dealer just as he did. There is an overwhelming need for African-American owned gun stores. Out of over 50,000 licensed gun dealers in the US, only about 30 are Black-owned.
“We need more African-American gun dealers out there. I'm willing to sacrifice a lot of money that I could be making just as one dealer, but I’d rather have 100 of us out there, so we can be able to protect ourselves,” Franklin said. “I didn't get in this business to become rich. I did it because I actually love firearms and I love teaching people about firearm laws and educating my community.”
Franklin invested about $30,000 of his savings into his firearms business, which he runs out of his home with occasional help from family and friends, while he juggles his career as a firefighter, EMT and a father. Despite his busy schedule, Franklin Firearms still guarantees shipment within 24 hours, with not a single complaint yet.
Soon, Franklin hopes to have a storefront for Franklin Firearms, hand-build his own firearms, teach classes and have his own shooting range, which, if successful, would be the first African-American -owned shooting range in Kansas City.
Franklin also works with the Kansas City chapter of NAAGA, sending those who come through his shop to NAAGA’s concealed carry classes. He said he enjoys being a part of a group that is trying to make a difference to educate the community and he suggests anyone who is interested in becoming a gun owner take a concealed carry weapon class and join a group like NAAGA for support.
NAAGA, which began in Atlanta in 2014, was created to increase education about the responsible use of firearms specifically in the African-American community and to preserve the Second Amendment. The organization has over 70 chapters, and over 60% of its members are women.
Marsha Wells, a firearm instructor for the Kansas City chapter of NAAGA joined the national NAAGA organization last November, said women are a very large sector of the gun ownership community, but they still experience unwelcomeness in gun ranges and shops.
Wells joined NAAGA after she experienced the same unwelcomeness and disrespect in some gun spaces, not only for being Black, but also for being a woman.
Growing up in a military family of avid hunters, firearms have been a part of her life since she was young, yet she said she has never had a female firearm instructor in all the years she has been a gun owner. It’s part of the reason she became a firearm instructor.
Since joining the leadership team of KC-NAAGA, she’s hosted women’s workshops with 25 to 30 ladies of all experience levels coming together to shoot. “I've always wanted to work with the ladies because they get so short-sighted,” Wells said.
Although Kansas City’s chapter of NAAGA is predominately male, the group’s leaders voice the importance of women in leadership roles in the organization and want to make sure women feel comfortable in the organization.
“I love the fact that the organization is to educate, is to equip you, is to empower you and to embrace you,” Wells said. “A big word that we don't hear is embrace. I don’t feel embraced in many places.”
If you’re interested in joining NAAGA or want to find your local chapter, visit: https://naaga.co
Jazzlyn Johnson is a Report for America corps member based at The Community Voice covering Kansas City’s African-American community.