Some Asian Americans are buying guns for the first time as attacks fuel fear across the nation, but advocates say firearms are not the solution.
“I know firsthand that guns don’t make us safe,” said Po Murray, the chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance, a national grassroots gun violence prevention group formed after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.
“It is a common myth that a good guy with a gun will keep us safe from a bad guy with a gun,” Murray added.
Murray and other Asian American activists across the country are concerned that people seeking a sense of security are opting to buy guns. Meanwhile, a new group wants to help Asians learn how to handle and shoot handguns if they so choose.
The increased interest in carrying guns and the debate over whether firearms will help prevent violence comes as the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community continues being harassed, threatened and violently assaulted.
In New York, two women were walking in Manhattan on Sunday when they were approached by a person wielding a hammer, police said. A woman in her 50s and a teen were assaulted last weekend.
The city has seen an uptick in bias crimes against Asians this year with 80 hate crimes reported since the beginning of the year through May 2, according to data from the NYPD.
Gloria Pan, vice president for national advocacy group MomsRising, said Tuesday that, historically, Asian Americans have not been as engaged in the gun debate as other groups.
Cultural, ethnic and language barriers have impacted their ability to fully understand the issue, along with a lack of multi-language resources and partnerships with local organizations, Pan said.
“If you’re an Asian American and you’re considering buying a gun, really try to think through it, rationally,” said Pan.
“You see videos of people being harassed and violence being committed against them on the streets, but in your state probably carrying around a gun might be illegal,” Pan added. “It might also be that carrying a gun might provoke other unintended consequences that put you in harm’s way.”
Caroline Fan, founder and president of the Missouri Asian American Youth Foundation, said she has been asked by people in her community, including first generation immigrants, for help finding gun safety training courses.
“I don’t think that guns make us safer. I understand the fear. I really understand the fear, but I just want our community find other options,” Fan said.
Asian Americans don’t often talk about being impacted by gun violence, Fan says, and it’s important to break the silence.
When the Atlanta-area spa shootings happened earlier this year, it reminded her of the shooting spree in the Midwest that left former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong and a Korean American student at Indiana University dead.
“I remember the sheer terror,” Fan said. “At the tender age of 18, I realized that there are people out there who will shoot us because we look different.”
Advocates are cautioning about the risks for people who may not be fully trained to handle a firearm or store it properly.
Mike Song lost his 15-year-old son Ethan after he accidentally shot himself with an unsecured gun in 2018 at a neighbor’s home in Guilford, Connecticut. Song said he’s urging people to consider other ways to secure their homes or businesses, including installing a security system.
“He (Ethan) died in the one place where you play, unbeknownst to any of the other parents in the community – where there were guns,” Song said. “That is something that I think about almost every day.”
“We will never, ever, ever, ever have a gun in this home because we know of the kind of tragedies that it can lead to,” Song said.
More AAPIs are interested in guns, advocates say
While there are no official estimates on firearm purchases by Asian Americans, gun sales in America spiked last year and remain at “unprecedented levels,” trade groups say.
The FBI conducted more than 3.5 million gun-related background checks last month and nearly 1.7 million of those gun background checks were specifically for gun purchases, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
The firearms industry trade group cross-references FBI data with actual sales figures provided by gun merchants to determine how many guns are sold monthly.
Chris Cheng, a gun rights advocate and past champion of the History Channel’s “Top Shot,” has been answering numerous emails and social media messages from Asian Americans looking to purchase their first firearm in recent months.
More Asian Americans are understanding that they are their own “first layer of protection” and can’t rely on law enforcement to be there to help them all the time, Cheng said.
Last month, the Asian American and Pacific Islander Gun Owners (AAPI GO) club was created to emphasize safe and responsible gun ownership in the community.
Vincent Yu, one of the group’s co-founders, said he joined the group after seeing the lack of solidarity messages and actions supporting the AAPI community after the Atlanta-area spa shootings and the violent anti-Asian attacks. He wanted to make a positive impact in the community, he said.
Yu has owned a firearm for several years, as he’s interested in shooting sports.
Scott Kane, another of the group’s founders, said he started looking into creating a group months after his wife and daughter, who are Asian, were yelled and spat upon by a group of men driving by on a pickup while the family was walking on a San Francisco Bay Area street.
“I started looking into personal defenses and options, which eventually led me to my first firearm purchase,” Kane told CNN.
During that process, Kane he noticed there were not a lot of community-focused resources available. The group wants to help others have “all the proper information ahead of time before they take that important step,” he said.