How many firearms does Olivia Dardy own? Don’t even think about going there. “That’s like asking a woman how much she weighs or how old she is,” says the straight-talking Norwalk resident. “There’s just some questions you don’t ask.”
Dardy may not want to say how many guns she has, but let’s just say it’s a lot. Firearms are her “passion,” a passion so great that she started a YouTube channel about three years ago to share her love and knowledge of them. She was far from an instant success. “I was stuck around 59 subscribers for a long time,” she says with a chuckle.
Then about two years ago, Dardy posted a video on carrying “one in the chamber” — keeping a bullet in her pistol’s breech, saving her precious moments if confronted with a threat. Her meticulous account of training herself over a period of months to safely carry a pistol with a chambered round hit a nerve — the nearly eight-minute video remains her most popular with more than 230,000 views as of early November. Suddenly, her channel began to get traction.
This year, that slow but steady increase in subscribers turned into a torrent. By March, she had 22,000, a number that more than doubled to over 50,000 by November. As Dardy has become more popular, makers of holsters, sights, gun lights and other firearms products have approached her to review their products. She’s even dipped her toe into the world of “merch,” hawking T-shirts emblazoned with “32icon,” the name of her channel.
Spend even a few minutes watching Dardy’s videos and you can see why she is a hit. At ease and chatty in front of the camera, she’s straightforward, informative and funny, with a big laugh and an equally big grin. Even non-gun people may find themselves drawn in. Along the way, she displays an encyclopedic knowledge of firearms and handles guns with an ease, dexterity and confidence that would put the average Hollywood action star to shame.
But what truly sets Dardy apart, she acknowledges, is her race and sex. In a YouTube niche dominated by white men, Dardy is a rarity, an African-American woman. Her comments section brims with viewers delighted to see someone like her talking about guns and defending the Second Amendment. It got to the point last March that Dardy decided to make a video addressing what she called “the elephant in the room.”
“Yes,” she says, sitting as she usually does in her videos at the table in the modest kitchen of her Norwalk home, “I’m Black. Yes, I am a woman. Yep, I love firearms. Yes, I am quite knowledgeable about those firearms. Yeah, I’m a little different.”
Different is an apt description of Dardy, who grew up in Norwalk public housing and became a basketball star at the city’s Brien McMahon High School. She went on to play four years of Division I basketball at Wake Forest University. After graduating, Dardy worked as a coach and eventually found her way back to Norwalk where she ran unsuccessfully for Common Council and did a short stint as a commentator on an internet radio sports show.
“I’m Black. Yes, I am a woman. Yep, I love firearms. Yes, I am quite knowledgeable about those firearms. Yeah, I’m a little different.”
In her spare time, Dardy, who works in education, pursues various hobbies, including motorcycle riding, golf and fishing. She had shot guns with relatives in the South and once with friends, but firearms were not part of her life until 2016. That’s when a friend gave her a lesson at a local range as a birthday present. She was immediately hooked and quickly obtained her concealed carry permit. “It was something different,” Dardy says. “It was along the lines of an adrenaline rush you get for some athletes, like stealing the ball and a breakaway layup. Once I began to understand all the intricacies, then I began to do a little more research.”
When Dardy started her YouTube channel “32icon” in October 2017 — “32” was her basketball jersey number and “Icon” is a brand of motorcycle gear she likes — she thought guns would be just part of it along with her motorcycling and other hobbies. But guns almost immediately took over, she says.
Dardy acknowledges that her race and her love of firearms conflict when voting. She loves guns and the Second Amendment, but is also a registered Democrat who feels strongly about women’s rights, education and senior issues. Her ballot will always “zigzag,” she says.
When it comes to gun ownership, however, she sees no conflict. The Constitution grants every American the right to own a gun to protect themself and their family, and Black people, if they are so inclined, should exercise that right as well, she says. Guns are not the problem, she says; people who misuse them are. “We can ban all handguns all we want and people will still die,” she says. “Evil existed before rifles and handguns.”
To illustrate her point, Dardy tells a story: growing up in a Norwalk housing project, she often witnessed police officers “up to no good” and “doing corrupt things.” Those officers carried Sig Sauer pistols, leading her to “hate” the brand so much she wouldn’t even pick one up, let alone buy one. “But as I educated myself and began to do more research, I began to understand a firearm is an inanimate object,” Dardy says. “It’s not the firearm. It’s the person. Now I’m over that and I understand that. I decided to purchase a Sig Sauer.”
As for the future, Dardy would love to make her YouTube channel her full-time job, but that’s unlikely because of the platform’s restrictive rules on gun content. In spite of her growing popularity, she makes little off her channel because YouTube demonetizes so many of her videos, often for reasons that aren’t clear, she says. Short of that, she’d like to open her own gun store and range.
“If [the YouTube channel] never becomes a full-time job, it will always be a full-time hobby,” she says.