BUFFALO, N.Y. — Last year, 5.4 million people bought a gun for the first time, according to a report by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

While it was a decrease from 2020, there may be a new shift happening among the diversity of gun owners.

Last year, about 42% were female and a fifth of that population was Black, according to a national firearms study.

It’s a trend gun education groups Spectrum News 1 spoke to say is increasing.

“I'm a retired United States Marine, so I have close to four decades of experience dealing with firearms, weapons literally around the world,” said Joe Wooley, the chapter president of the National African American Gun Association.

Guns are nothing new to Wooley. He passes his knowledge along to classes throughout the region.

“[Trying] to erase the stigma that guns are bad,” Wooley said.

He’s not alone.

“I do believe that a legal and responsibly armed under the Second Amendment society is a safer society,” Wooley explained.

The National African American Gun Association gained around half a million members since it started in 2019.

That's growth Wooley sees in his classes too.

“It's important for a young, Black, African woman like myself, as a single mother of two, to be able to protect yourself at all costs,” said Natalie Brooks, a student in Wooley's class who is interested in gun ownership.

Brooks was one of two women in this class learning about making yourself less of a target and firearm safety.

“Don’t place your finger into the trigger guard unless you’re willing to fire,” demonstrated Wooley as he handed off a simulated firearm to Ace Monet, the other woman in the class.

The two are part of a growing number of Black women interested in getting armed in the face of an increased risk of violence.

"Domestic violence has been on the rise among some of the women in the community here in Buffalo," said Monet. "I think you probably will start seeing more women get interested in protecting yourself, [not being] so afraid of that word … 'gun.'"

It's an idea of self-protection that hits closer to home for members of this class following the mass shooting at Tops.

“It caught a lot of people off guard. They never for once ever thought, 'hey, I'm gonna pull out my pepper spray.' They're thinking about ducking," said Brooks. "But had they had a concealed weapon and that they were legally trained, I know for a fact one of those victims that were victimized would have pulled it out and used it.”

While research shows gun access correlates with higher rates of suicide, accidental death, and murder, uncertain times can be a bigger motivating factor, even with strict gun laws in New York state.

“No matter what the restrictions is, I still want to make sure I'll be able to protect myself by any means,” said Monet.

“It's all by choice. And if you're responsible enough ... I'm responsible," said Brooks. "I have the option to decide on what's best for me and my family.”

White males continue to make up the majority of gun owners in the U.S.

Throughout the pandemic, however, studies show gun sales spiked among all demographics.