Spurred by surging crime rates and increased concern for their safety, more Black women in Chicago are arming themselves and getting their hands on concealed-carry permits.
The Windy City is experiencing a burgeoning new trend as the number of African-American women receiving permits has steadily increased in the three years since the state started issuing them. So far in 2017, nearly 1,400 Black woman have received a concealed-carry permit, surpassing the number of women who got one last year, according to Illinois State Police data. In all, over 4,000 Black women in Cook County have gotten concealed-carry permits.
“It’s like a part of me now,” 51-year-old Vernetta Robinzine told the Chicago Tribune of her gun. Since receiving her concealed-carry permit this past spring, Robinzine said she takes her firearm everywhere. A burglary at her home and a shooting and home invasion on her block are what prompted her to become a gun owner.
She isn’t the only one packing heat, though.
Chicago business owner Javondlynn Dunagan said she decided to sign up for a shooting lesson through her job as a probation officer and found it helpful. After retiring in 2016, Dunagan said she bought her own gun and began practicing. It wasn’t until she founded her business, JMD Defense & Investigations, in March that she obtained a concealed-carry permit, the newspaper reported.
“I think women are finally realizing [that] we’re becoming victims out here,” she said.
Aimed at increasing opportunities for women on the South Side to get educated about guns and personal safety, Dunagan’s business allows clients to practice with a laser in her one-room office before stepping into the shooting range with a real gun.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Dunagan also founded the Ladies of Steel Gun Club to practice at a range with other women in the area. Outside experts are invited to teach the ladies everything from general gun safety precautions to how to properly carry a firearm in the car.
“We support each other; we’re high-fiving each other,” Dunagan said of the shooting practice. “It’s like a book club.”
Though the number of Black women with concealed-carry licenses is rising, it should be noted that they still comprise a relatively small percentage of those applying for permits, the newspaper reported. In fact, Black woman have lagged behind white women, white men and Black men for the past three years when it comes to concealed-carry licenses.
Women like Robinzine and Dunagan are hoping to change that, however.
Data showed that Black women in Cook County had the sharpest growth, jumping 67 percent from 2014 to 2016, compared to any other racial group receiving concealed-carry permits in the county. It was also the only group whose permits increased each year since 2014, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“A lot of Black women are now going to the range, to the store buying a gun and then going to practice,” said Philip Smith, founder of the Georgia-based National African-American Gun Association. “It’s a definite trend that we’re seeing at our organization and also in the general public.”
Alexandra Filindra, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, called the uptick in nonwhite citizens with concealed-carry permits surprising and added that more people with handguns might increase the risk of accidental shootings.
Dunagan begged to differ.
“I don’t believe that because more people are arming themselves it’s going to be a more violent environment or community,” she told the newspaper. “I just think that people will feel much more comfortable in their homes, and maybe the criminals [are] less likely to conduct home invasions or, I hate to say, run up on someone … if they realize more and more people are arming themselves.”