L.A. Times Off Target in Report on 'Progressive' Gun Owners

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Maybe it's just my own bias coming through, but it sure seems to me like there's one glaring exception to the mainstream media's mistreatment of gun owners and the Second Amendment: so long as the gun owner in question is liberal or a progressive, their gun ownership is a good thing, or at least not something to be too critical about. 

I was reminded of this phenomenon when I saw the Los Angeles Times write-up on "L.A. Progressive Shooters", a firearms training academy run by Tom Nguyen. A "leftist firearms whisperer", as the Times describes him, Nguyen earned the paper's praise for poking fun at "stereotypical American gun culture, mocking 'alpha male' behavior and the John Wick film franchise with its video game levels of violence." The Times seemed captivated by Nguyen's assertion that "owning a gun doesn't have to define your personality... and it doesn't mean you have to seek conflict"; a lesson that the Times reporters might be disappointed to learn is preached by plenty of conservative firearms instructors as well. 

The Times describes Nguyen's facility as a "gun space for people sick of American gun culture", though of course they never bother to define that term. As far as I'm concerned, the students (and staff) at L.A. Progressive Shooters are very much a part of American gun culture. For that matter, I'd consider the Times reporter who profiled Nguyen to be a part of that culture as well. 

That year the California Department of Justice issued roughly 511,000 "firearm safety certificates," which must be obtained to legally buy a gun in the state; that was more than the department issued in the prior two years combined, records show. The number of registered gun owners in California jumped from 2.3 million in 2018 to nearly 3.5 million at the start of this year.

I was among those new gun owners. In 2021 — after watching colleagues hide from the violent mob on Jan. 6 and remembering I have a habit of writing about angry men with access to weapons — I walked into a Burbank gun store to pick up my first handgun. 

The weapon was transferred to me by the man who taught me anything I ever knew about guns, my father.

A National Rifle Assn.-certified instructor and former New York City Police detective, the elder James Queally (though everyone calls him Jim) is as patient a teacher as one could ask for and a stickler for safety, much like Nguyen.

But I could see how the Staten Island, N.Y., gun club where he often corrects my stance and habit of drifting shots low and left during visits home could feel like hostile territory to some of Nguyen's students, and a less than ideal space for a journalist with a California mailing address. One guy made the sign of the cross when I told him I'd moved to Los Angeles. "Let's Go Brandon" stickers are visible, and conversations about my profession can get uncomfortable when the range members, many of them ex-cops, realize I often write about law enforcement misconduct.

Most gun owners are still found on the conservative side of the political spectrum, and I'm sure that's the case for most of our readers here at Bearing Arms. But we are talking about a right of "the people" here, and that includes lefties, righties, and the politically homeless. That's one of the problems I have with the phrase "gun culture"; it's virtually meaningless, because gun ownership cuts across every demographic line that you can dream up. What Nguyen is doing is helping to broaden that culture of gun ownership, and I have no problem whatsoever with that, even if I disagree with his politics... and his description of the 2A community.  

Wanting to improve his firearms skills as he planned to launch his classes, Nguyen said he stumbled into a 2nd Amendment-focused Facebook group that was intended to be welcoming to Asian gun owners.

A few days in that space made Nguyen more certain than ever that he needed to create one of his own.

"It was no different than the kind of attitudes I’ve seen in the rest of the male-dominated gun world. They were right wing. They were conservative. They were homophobic. They were transphobic, misogynist," he said.

Michael Schwartz, executive director of the San Diego County Gun Owners Political Action Committee, said that while he's supportive of Nguyen's mission, he thinks his assessment of the "traditional" gun owner leans too heavily on tropes.

“The stereotype is gone. Firearms, as a hobby, are very common in the Asian community and the Hispanic community, and that’s not who we think of," Schwartz said. “Growing up, a gun owner was somebody out of 'Duck Dynasty.'”

There are still plenty of gun owners (including me) who look like a lost relative of the Robertsons. But I'm thrilled that more Americans of all races, colors, and creeds are embracing their right to keep and bear arms, and though I'm sure they're out there, I've yet to talk to a Second Amendment supporter who disagrees. This is the last big-tent political movement in the country, and while we may differ on our politics, lifestyle, religion, and other issues, when we start talking about our Second Amendment rights it's beautiful to see common ground emerge. 

Nguyen's stances are a little more centrist. He rolls his eyes at the arguments most of his friends make in response to mass shootings, correctly noting that handguns kill far more Americans per year than rampaging gunmen armed with assault rifles. He has reservations about gun control legislation, fearing it would be disparately enforced against marginalized communities.

Is that really "centrist"? Sounds more like a pro-2A take to me. I'm guessing that if Nguyen and I sat down to talk politics we'd find plenty of things to disagree about, but we'd be largely in sync when it comes to California's gun control laws. 

After reading Queally's report, I get the sense that he really wanted to make the case that somehow Nguyen and his students are different from icky conservative gun owners like myself. Heck, maybe Nguyen himself feels that way. But when it comes to our right to own and carry a gun, we're all in this together. 

If we're ever going to reduce the gun control movement to compete and utter irrelevance, it's going to take a broad coalition of gun owners who can persuade, cajole, and convince politicians in both parties that it's against their best interest and our civil liberties to treat the Second Amendment as a problem to be solved instead of a right deserving of protection. Nguyen and other progressive gun owners can play an historic role in Second Amendment advocacy, but they should remember who their (and our) real opponents are; the lawmakers, lobbyists, and anti-gun groups working to destroy our right to keep and bear arms.