Geneva Solomon grew up in a fully anti-gun household.
“My dad was shot when I was 2 years old and so we didn't talk about guns in the house at all,” Solomon, 39, said. “And when I got older, I would ask questions like, you know, 'Dad, what happened to your leg? It's gone.'”
As an adult, she found herself in a messy relationship that left her feeling unsafe. She decided it was up to her to protect herself and her daughter, so she went to the nearest gun store to make a purchase.
“It was a terrifying, horrible experience, not just because I was buying the gun; it was because of how I was treated,” Solomon told NBC News. “I looked around the room and there was nothing but white men behind the counter. There wasn't even a woman there.”
That was 13 years ago. Today, she stands on the other side of the counter as the owner of Redstone Firearms, the only Black-owned gun store in California. Her mission is to prevent anyone from having the experience she did.
"You're not going to buy a Slurpee. You're buying a firearm.”
“I want you to be able to have a safe space to do that, because it's something so serious," Solomon said. "You're not going to buy a Slurpee. You're buying a firearm."
There are at least 6,000 gun stores in the U.S., according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms trade group. Of those, fewer than 10 are Black-owned, according to the National African American Gun Association, which promotes gun ownership among Black people in the U.S.
And business has never been so good.
Between March 2020 and March 2021, the FBI conducted over 46 million firearm background checks, a prerequisite for purchasing a gun from a store — and a proxy for gun sales. In each of the last four months, over 4 million background checks were conducted.
The NSSF found that 40 percent of gun sales last year were to first-time buyers and that purchases by Black Americans increased 56 percent, more than any other race.
One of those people is Rhiana Arredondo, who described herself as a “tree-hugging hippie.” After watching report after report of police killings of Black people and her experience living in a predominantly pro-Trump neighborhood, she decided to buy a gun.
“We don’t feel safe,” she said. “I know that I am more at risk if I hear something outside and call the police than I am if I take care of it myself. Just being a Black woman where I live — just being Black, it's dangerous. The police might think that you're the criminal, especially where I live, because no one looks like me.”
Students listen to an instructor during Redstone Firearms' beginner handgun course at Angeles Shooting Ranges in California
Students listen to an instructor during Redstone Firearms' beginner handgun course at Angeles Shooting Ranges in Lake View Terrace, Calif., on April 18.Ezra Kaplan / NBC News
Arredondo purchased a pistol from Redstone Firearms and signed up for a beginner’s handgun course on a private range in the mountains north of Los Angeles.
The class of 20 new gun owners was predominantly Black — exactly what fellow student Erin Wood was looking for.
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“It's just nice to have people that look like you in the group. It just makes you feel a little more comfortable to have the instructors be from your community,” Wood said, emphasizing that she sought out Redstone Firearms specifically because it is Black-owned.
But Redstone's owners, Solomon and her husband, Jonathan, 37, say they had to overcome a series of barriers just to open their shop, which is in Burbank, California.
"California altogether makes it almost impossible to run a gun store here at all," Solomon said. "You know, it's designed for you to fail, and then you add in the layer of race. It's like, wow, we made it."
Most challenging was simply securing a lease, Solomon said. After getting rejected multiple times, she said she and her husband hired a white realtor — and suddenly had plenty of offers, she said.
Now, with booming sales, the couple wants to find a place to purchase so they can expand the business and not have to answer to a landlord.
"I know I am more at risk if I hear something outside and call the police than I am if I take care of it myself."
While the store is a critical part of their business, their classes provide a service they say their community desperately needs.
"The need was access to comfortability of being able to have these discussions," Solomon said. "And so we have done our best to create that safe space for not just people in the Black community but from people from any community."
Back on the gun range, first-time gun owner Wood got some welcome instruction on her shooting stance and tips for accuracy.
"I think that economic power is important," she said. "And if certain people don't have access, they get left behind. I think that's why it's important for people of color to own more gun shops, to run more schools like this."