Behind the walls of an unassuming building in Denver’s historic Five Points neighborhood, a cultural shift is taking hold in the Black community.
Gun owners and novice shooters are stepping inside the 1770 Armory and Gun Club to learn about their weapons, pick up some Black history and practice shooting — without firing a shot.
Racial tensions rose during President Donald Trump’s time in office, and Black gun ownership rose to record highs. But shooting spaces are sometimes owned by those who drove Blacks to buy guns in the first place.
Traditionally, Second Amendment culture is overwhelmingly white, male and conservative, and many Black shooters can feel unwelcome. A Virginia shooting range, The Smoking Gun, got in hot water last year for explicitly saying Black Lives Matter supporters were not welcome to shoot at their range.
On the streets, there’s long been a disparity in the treatment of Blacks who open carry vs. whites. That’s led to the creation of spaces where Black shooters can feel safe while training for firearm safety. The 1770 Armory and Gun Club opened last fall.
“1770 Armory is a conglomerate of veterans and civilians who saw the need for Black representation within the firearms community,” said Anubis Heru, the lead firearms instructor at the shooting range. All members of the conglomerate are co-owners.
Founders of the gun club chose “1770” because it was the year Crispus Attucks defied British occupation and died in the Boston Massacre. Attucks was a Black man who was the first person to die in the Revolutionary War. His biography is shamefully undertold in American history, and Heru seeks to right that wrong.
From self-emancipating from slavery, to becoming a sailor, part-time street fighter, and the first American to lay down his life for freedom, Attucks’ spirit seems to permeate the 1770 Armory and Gun Club’s ethos.
Heru is the lead instructor. Sean McWilliams is the CEO, a Marine Corps veteran, firearms instructor and gun tailor. Wanda L. James, whom Heru describes as an investor and financial powerhouse, is a Navy veteran. General manager Josh Graham is a former athlete and VIP bodyguard.
The conglomerate met through another gun club called 5280 Steel. “We all had a very similar thought process as far as creating a retail store and gun range here in Denver,” Heru says.
They met for months in the planning phase before the armory finally emerged. Heru says it’s not enough to be a Black-owned gun club.
“What makes us stand out is how we use the technology of ‘dry fire,’ often used by military and law enforcement,” Heru said. With infrared-sensitive targets and laser cartridges you insert into your firearm, a shooter can work on their skills without the deafening blast of real gunfire or the expense of ammunition.
This allowed them to open their doors without the often seven-figure overhead necessary to open a live-fire range. “It creates a very safe work environment where you can train drills and different scenarios without the possibility of shooting where you don’t want to shoot,” Heru said.
Heru shared the dry fire technology with James, and she immediately saw the opportunity to expand to every city in the nation, starting with the one they lived in. “You’re still getting the training for real-world scenarios without the element of immediate danger,” he said.
This is especially important for beginners. Heru said that learning firearms while a loud shotgun and an AK-47 are going off to the left and right of you can be anxiety-inducing when you’re just starting out.
Jeanine Haliburton is a Colorado native who works in finance and communications. She, too, felt the cultural shift under Trump that led some Black Americans to pursue firearms training. She not only joined, but put her daughters on a family membership. She has even taken her son down to 1770 Armory.
I asked her how she first found the place.
“A friend of mine is a mutual friend of Anubis. I checked it out, and decided to sign up for a class,” Haliburton said. She said she has fired guns before, but has recently decided to take shooting more seriously.
“You have the feeling of family, there,” she said. “You don’t feel embarrassed about questions you have, especially as a woman. There’s no intimidation like there is at other ranges. I prefer the atmosphere there.”
1770 Armory has also opened up specialized women’s urban survival and tactics courses based on real-world self-defense scenarios. They drill everything from hand-to-hand combat, situational awareness, threat detection, and the sadly all-too-important active shooter survival guide.
The club also offers gun tailoring services. Heru describes gun tailoring as the “geek squad” to firearms.
“People go to gun stores, and they don’t understand the jargon and a lot of stuff that comes with buying a gun,” he said.
Gun tailors go with the customer to purchase the perfect firearm for their situation. Whether it’s hunting or home defense, they guide you through the process.
Theo E.J. Wilson of Denver is a poet, speaker, author and activist.
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