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Gun club in Virginia Beach empowers via education

Joel Jones directs a student how to properly hold a firearm at a training facility
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VPM News Focal Point
Strong Arms Gun Club teaches gun safety, provides training and educates people of color to help them feel comfortable using firearms for self-defense.

For Joel Jones, educating gun owners is a step toward combating misuse and mishandling of firearms that result in tragedies. That’s why he started the Strong Arms Gun Club in Virginia Beach — to teach gun safety, provide training and educate people of color so they feel more comfortable using firearms for self-defense.

“We're simply here to train all of our members in the ways of the Second Amendment and to be more proficient in firearms and to help them defend themselves,” he said. “That’s in line with the national mission [of] the National African American Gun Association.”

Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun control advocacy group, ranked Virginia 14th in the country for the strength of its gun safety laws. Jones, who spent 25 years in the U.S. Navy, said the commonwealth is a “gun enthusiast state” with strong support for gun ownership.

“We're about that Second Amendment here in Virginia, and we're going to keep that going strong,” Jones said. “It's not going anywhere, especially in the Black community.”

Jones’ classes, including ones about concealed carry, include men and women of all races and backgrounds. Jones has made it his mission to invite more women join his gun club to learn safe practices for being around and using firearms.

“I created a goal that I wanted to have 1000 women certified in concealed carry,” Jones said. “It's been a great success. Right now, I'm at 302 women and I started this in 2021, right after I became an instructor.”

Norfolk resident Nikki Bynum said that seeing other Black women in the room learning about firearms is empowering.

“The stigma is that the man has to be the one to protect. But there's a lot of single women,” Bynum said. “So, you have to be able to defend yourself at all times. I think it's great that women in general are arming themselves and getting educated and taking this [seriously].”

Tonya Warren, a Norfolk realtor, decided to take Jones’ concealed carry permit class because one of her colleagues was shot and killed while working.

“I realized I needed to attack this head on,” she said. “So, I decided that I'm going to come and get the proper training and knowledge on how to use [a] firearm and make sure that I'm doing it according to the law.”

The Hampton Roads area has been experiencing a surge of violent crime. Recent data from the Gun Violence Archive shows that 2022 ended with more than 160 gun violence–related homicides across the region’s seven core cities: Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach.

“I've never used a firearm. However, in this climate and with the occupation that I've chosen as a realtor, I've found that it's necessary because we're living in a time where people are doing active shootings,” Warren said. “As a female, I go into areas all over the Hampton Roads area and I just want to make sure that I'm not a victim.”

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