Cheng: Focus on mental health, not guns after Monterey Park

Cheng: Focus on mental health, not guns after Monterey Park

Competitive shooter, California gun owner, and Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association founding board member Chris Cheng grew up in southern California not far from the city of Monterey Park, where a 72-year old man opened fire in a crowded ballroom on Saturday night filled with revelers ringing in the Lunar New Year. As he tells Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co on today’s show, he was sickened to see the news of the shooting on Sunday morning.

“Just to imagine the amount of fear and confusion, and now I’m sure distress and anger that’s coming in the aftermath of this shooting is heartbreaking,” Cheng said, noting that the Lunar New Year has huge cultural significance for many Asian cultures, and what should have been time for the community to celebrate is now a period of mourning and grief.

And gun control… at least if you’re an elected Democrat in the state. As Cheng rightfully points out, California is already home to some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country; none of which prevented the septuagenarian suspect from acquiring his guns or carrying out his attack. Cheng knows that the state legislature is going to use the Monterey Park murders as justification for their newest assault on the right to armed self-defense, but he says from what we’ve already learned from this tragedy they’re aiming in the wrong direction.

“This sounds like he was embedded in the community, people knew who he was. I’ve been reading some comments from witnesses who say that he was acting a little strange over the past few weeks and months, and I wonder if there were warning signs,” Cheng wondered, though he did acknowledge that its probably easier to point out these troubling indicators after the fact than it is in the moment.

We’ll undoubtably learn more about the killer’s history as the investigation continues, but the mayor of Monterey Park suggested in an interview with NBC News on Monday that the murderer may have been targeting his ex-wife.

“My understanding is that he may have come because his ex-wife was reveling, celebrating the Lunar New Year, and it sounded like there was a history of domestic violence, which is unfortunate,” Monterey Park Mayor Henry Lo told NBC News’ Kate Snow.

Tran filed for divorce in 2005 in Los Angeles County, records show. NBC News has reached out to the person believed to be the shooter’s ex-wife for comment.

Police on Monday were searching the suspect’s home in Hemet, a small city about 85 miles east of Los Angeles, and have not divulged a motive.

Alan Reyes, public information officer for the Hemet Police Department, said their records show that Tran contacted them a decade ago and alleged his family was trying to poison him. The allegation was never investigated because Tran never presented any proof to back up his claims, Reyes said.

Reporting that your family is trying to poison you may not be be enough of a red flag that it would lead to an involuntary mental health hold by itself, but I can’t help but wonder what an actual investigation might have turned up at the time. I doubt police would have found any evidence backing up the suspect’s story, but they might have talked to him enough that they became concerned about his own mental stability and had him examined by professionals.

California lawmakers are far more likely to use the Monterey Park shooting as an excuse to drastically expand the use of “red flag” laws instead of trying to fix the state’s broken mental health system, but Cheng says some of the most valuable action that can be taken doesn’t involve putting new laws on the books at all. Instead, he says that we need to be looking out for each other as friends, family, neighbors, and even fellow gun owners.

“It’s asking, hey, if I’m a part of this community and I see someone in trouble, what can I do? It’s not what can the government do, or even what can mental health professionals do. It’s about what can I do right now with this person who needs help. And when it comes to firearms in particular… if you know someone really well you’re likely to know they have firearms. And so if someone is mental distress and having a challenging period in their lives, one option is to offer to temporarily take custodianship of that person’s guns. Just ask ‘hey, as a friend, as a favor, if you’re open to it I’m willing to temporarily hold your firearms while you’re going through this tough part in your life.”

It’s an idea that’s being put into place around the country through the efforts of groups like Hold My Guns, and I personally believe this programs are of far greater value than “red flag” laws, which (in my opinion) primarily exist to give politicians something to point to as an accomplishment instead of taking on the much more challenging task of repairing a crumbling mental health system.

Cheng knows that California lawmakers aren’t about to reverse their current course towards Disarmamentland, but he’s also preparing for an influx of Asian Americans who are ready to become trained and proficient at protecting themselves with a firearm in the wake of the Monterey Park shootings. Gun ownership in that demographic has grown by almost 50% since 2020, according to Cheng, and he expects that to continue in the future, especially as states like California are slowly forced to comply with the Second Amendment and its protection of the right to keep and bear arms.

There’s much more to my conversation with Chris Cheng, so check out the entire discussion in the video window above… and stay tuned for the legislative avalanche of 2A infringements to start moving in Sacramento this week.