By Darlene Donloe
BURBANK — During a year fraught with continued national protest over racial injustice, an unrelenting pandemic, a shortage of toilet paper and disinfectant and the release of non-violent criminals from prison, gun sales in the nation, in Los Angeles and especially among Black people, have soared.
Most notably, nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd and others at the hands of law enforcement is, reportedly, the major catalyst for a surge in gun sales among Black Americans.
Unlike previous spikes, it’s not gun enthusiasts driving sales, but rather first-time gun owners who are concerned about defense, according to the Black Gun Owners Association.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in first-time buyers,” said Derrick Morgan one of the founders of the Black Gun Owners Association in Northern California. “When COVID hit and after the George Floyd murder, we got an overwhelming amount of people wanting guns and wanting to join gun clubs. We had such a surge our website crashed.”
The surge in gun sales is a boon for Jonathan and Geneva Solomon, owners of Redstone Firearms in Burbank, the only Black-owned gun shop on the West Coast, and one of a dozen brick and mortar stores across the country. They’ve seen their business double in the last six months.
“Our sales have definitely increased since the pandemic and all the racial tension,” Geneva Solomon said. “It has more than doubled because people don’t know what’s to come.”
Geneva said about 90% or more of their sales come from first-time gun owners. “
“We haven’t even seen our regulars,” she said. “The government is taking away liberties. The scary thing is people are losing their jobs. When those people who lost their jobs are faced with potential poverty, they turn to desperate measures.
“I don’t remember the last time there was a pandemic. People were hoarding toilet paper. Toilet paper and food. When you factor in the civil unrest, Blacks realized what could occur and took action.”
Janeeka Muse, 31, is a first-time gun owner. The Florida native said she decided to buy a gun because of the tense atmosphere in the country.
“Just look at everything that’s happening,” Muse said. “Look at George Floyd. The protests. This is scary. I decided to buy a gun because I wanted to protect my family. I came to Redstone because it’s black-owned.”
Adrian Robinson, 39, is also from Florida. She, too, needs a gun for personal protection.
“I want a gun because these white folks out here are acting crazy,” Robinson said.
Prisk Rios, 30, has been shooting guns with her father since she was a kid.
“I’ve owned my own gun for about a year,” said Rios, who is originally from Fresno. “I already own one gun. I bought one because my house was broken into. Today I’m buying a CZ-Rami sub-compact 9mm. I came to Redstone because it’s black-owned.”
Geneva said the gun buyers come from all walks of life.
“We see people from all professions like doctors, nurses, chemists, scientists, people in retail, white, Black, Hispanic, and even people in law enforcement,” she said.
In March alone, the FBI ran 3.7 million background checks. That’s, reportedly, the most ever since the system launched and a million more than the same time last year.
Sales increased at such a rapid pace that the Solomons had to hire more help. On average, people wait four to five hours in line.
“In the beginning, it was just me,” said Jonathan Solomon. “Then Geneva left corporate America and joined me. It was instantly overwhelming. I looked up and I don’t know how many people were in line. We had to create space in the shop.”
Jonathan said due to the pandemic, it wasn’t long before the business grew 10-fold.
“Then the murder of George Floyd sent people into a panic,” he said. “They were seeing Black people being harassed in the media. They may live in an area that is not predominately Black. Some say they’ve been called names. There was this growing worry about violence against Black people that brought in a wave of Blacks seeking guns.”
The Solomons have seen it all and heard it all.
“What I’m hearing from customers is that things are getting scary,” Geneva said. “They want to protect their homes. You’re afraid to call law enforcement because you might become the victim. I think Black people woke up and said, ‘I’m my own first responder.’”
Geneva, 38, and Jonathan, 37, who met on Eharmony, opened the brick and mortar Redstone Firearms in 2015, but operated the company out of their home for seven months prior to that.
“We started out of our house, but then we quickly realized we had three children and there were too many guns in our office,” said Geneva. “That’s when we started shopping for a place.”
Ironically, when they opened the store, they were unaware that they were the only black-owned gun shop on the West Coast.
“I didn’t know,” she said. “It’s so funny. I called the National African American Gun Association and that’s when I realized there were not a lot of us.”
Geneva Solomon said it was more than a notion to open up a gun store ownership.
“It was a process,” she said. “There are no loans when you go into gun sales. No one will mess with you. It’s dominated by the NRA (National Rifle Association). “We have to be affiliated with the NRA. The licensing it takes to run a gun store is tremendous. It was 19 different licenses.
“There were no obstacles on the federal side,” said Jonathan, who has worked in law enforcement for several colleges and public schools.
“When the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau) did the physical interview, they were a wealth of knowledge,” he said. “They actually want you to open and do it the right way. There were some obstacles on the local side, though.
“There is a lot you have to have in place like zoning and insurance. Some places didn’t want to rent to us because we were Black. There was no problem with selling the firearms, there was a problem with our skin. We had some hiccups, but we were resilient. It was stressful, but we stuck by it.”
Jonathan Solomon has been shooting guns since he was 5. He was competing at the age of six.
“It’s my grandfather’s doing,” he said. “All of my aunts and family members were shooters. When I think about owning a gun and learning how to shoot it, I’m likening it back to something my grandfather used to say.
“He said, ‘If we don’t shoot back we will get shot at.’ Knowing the mentality that is trained in new police officers, I now get why my grandfather said what he said.”
The Solomons do more than sell guns.
“We are educators,” Geneva said. “Gun sales come only after we educate you and help you make an informed decision. We like customers to take advantage of the ‘range days.’ Customers used to be able to just come to the range, now we sell out in 30 minutes. Before the pandemic, we were never full.”
“We do consulting, education and training,” Jonathan said. “We’re not just in the business of selling firearms. The firearm is secondary. The info and the relationship are what’s important.”
Redstone Firearms’ workshops include practical tactical, emergency management, civil unrest, natural disasters and firearms for beginners.
The most popular gun being sold at Firestone currently, according to Jonathan is “anything.”
“It really is anything,” he said. “If I had to say, at this moment maybe a shotgun or an AR 15 rifle, or some Glocks, a 17, a 19 or a 23.”
Guns have always been controversial. The duality of the gun signifies danger to some and safety to others.
“As a woman, it’s the great equalizer,” Geneva said.
“Guns are a way of life,” Jonathan added. “No one should be unprotected in their home or outside the home. You should be able to protect yourself against anyone who wants to do you harm. It’s your God-given right for self-protection.”