Attacks On Asian-Americans Leading To New Gun Owners

Attacks On Asian-Americans Leading To New Gun Owners
AP Photo/Andrew Selsky

Amidst a rise in attacks on Asian-Americans in cities like San Francisco and Oakland, a growing number of members of the community are choosing to protect themselves and others with a firearm. In a lengthy account, the Washington Post details how the attacks are impacting Asian-Americans and prompting them to think carefully about how best to stay safe while the violence continues to grow.

San Francisco social worker Jason Gee decided to buy a handgun in the spring after a series of incidents, including an assault, home invasion and his car windows being broken.And on his way to buying a gun, in the parking lot,four White men called him and his friend “the coronavirus” and “chinks.”

While in line to buy the firearm, Gee said, he noticed that most of the customers were also Asian.

But he soon started to worry that his purchase was “playing to fear,” ultimately making his community less safe and decided to sell the firearm back.

“If you show up here … expecting violence, that may put you in a certain mind frame, where you may misread a situation and respond to it with violence.”

Local leaders have made similar pleas, including Oakland Police Department Chief LeRonne Armstrong who expressed concern about civilian gun owners creating “unintended victims.”

He held a news conference Feb. 16 after a Chinatown shopkeeper was jailed for allegedly firing his weapon at a man he believed was robbing a woman on the street.

“We don’t want people to fire weapons into our community,” he said. “While we appreciated people’s interest in keeping our community safe, we want them to observe and report.”

I wish that Gee would have spoken to some gun owners before he decided to sell his gun back to the store where he purchased it. I would have told him that owning a gun doesn’t mean that you’re constantly expecting violence to happen. It simply helps you be prepared to protect yourself in the case of a violent attack. I have a fire extinguisher in my kitchen, but I’m not expecting that I’m going to burn down my house every time I make mac and cheese. It’s simply a tool in case I ever need one.

As for Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong’s desire for “good witnesses” and not armed citizens, one Second Amendment supporter in the Bay Area says the chief’s call to disarm is simply wrong.

That sentiment makes San Francisco gun owner Chris Cheng furious. Cheng, who describes himself as a Second Amendment advocate, has owned a gun since 2008 and said friends and strangers have been reaching out to him about gun ownership in response to the attacks.

“I think a lot of Asian Americans are realizing that the police can only do so much and that the police are not always there to protect us,” Cheng said. “They’re only there to take the report.”

I wish that the Post would have paid a little more attention to Cheng, because I think he’s got a very interesting perspective on the issue. For those who don’t know Chris, he came to national attention when he won Season 4 of the television show Top Shot back in 2012, and he’s spoken extensively over the years about his own journey into gun ownership, which began not because of a desire for self-defense, but for the fun and technical aspects of shooting. Since then, however, Cheng has become a staunch supporter of the right to keep and bear arms, and as a gay man and a racial minority, he has a lot to say about the importance of self-defense for members of vulnerable communities.

Given the restrictive gun control laws in California, and the near total prohibition on concealed carry licenses in Oakland and San Francisco, many in the Asian-American community are choosing to protect themselves and each other without using a gun.

As the coronavirus pandemic has saddled low-income communities with economic hardships, community callouts and social media posts seeking volunteers to help protect business owners and older residents have proliferated in Asian American neighborhoods. The volunteer patrols pass out whistles so residents can alert others to active crimes and offer to walk with older neighbors as they run errands.

“Our community is hurting,” said Kevin Chan, owner of Golden Gate Fortune Cookie, which has been a stop for the San Francisco patrol. The Chinatown shop has been open for 58 years, but business has declined by 80 percent since the pandemic, Chan said.

“Everybody is worried about what’s happening, not just me, everybody in the community,” he said. “Because they just want to make a living and then people are attacking them just because they have a store or they’re walking on the street.”

The Washington Post doesn’t mention this, but Kevin Chan is another gun owner. In fact, last October Chan used his legally-owned gun to thwart an attack on a tourist outside of the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie company. For whatever reason, the Post apparently decided that bringing up that salient fact was actually unimportant to their overall story.

Given that the Post chose to highlight a San Francisco gun owner who ended up getting rid of his firearm, I’m guessing that the reporters didn’t want to do anything that would actually encourage Asian-Americans to acquire a firearm for self-defense, and bringing Chan’s defensive gun use into their story would be “problematic” from a gun control perspective.

Still, facts are facts, and Chan is a gun owner who’s used his firearm to protect others, just like the Oakland shopkeeper who was arrested after firing shots to stop a robbery. Oakland’s police chief may prefer that residents become unarmed witnesses victims, but plenty of Chinatown residents and workers would clearly prefer to be armed citizens instead.