A new gun group hoping to educate Asian Americans about gun rights and gun safety in response to rising hate crimes launched on Monday.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Gun Owners (AAPIGO) aims to provide training and representation to a demographic often overlooked in the conversation on guns. They have scheduled their first meet-and-greet range day for May 9th in Livermore, Calif. And they have already signed up 25 people for an informational course on how to apply for a California gun-carry permit followed by a group application drive designed to bring awareness to the rising threat of hate crimes against Asian Americans.
Racist attacks on Asians surged in 2020, with one report putting the figure at nearly 3,800 incidents and the Los Angeles Police Department reporting the rate of hate crimes against Asians more than doubling. Simultaneously, alongside other Americans, Asians began buying more guns. A gun dealer survey conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation found the number of Asian customers jumping 46 percent in the first half of 2020.
Now, AAPIGO wants to train those new Asian gun owners and equip them to protect themselves against racist attacks.
Patrick Lopez and Scott Kane founded the group after meeting on Reddit. The two men had been looking for ways to encourage the influx of new Asian-American gun owners to get training and learn about their Second Amendment rights.
“In early March, there was a lot of news about the shooting in Atlanta and new gun owners, lots of new gun purchases,” Lopez, an Asian American man who lives in California and works in the tech industry, told The Reload. “And I’m seeing that in action, people bringing their brand new guns, and it just kind of hit me like ‘it would be nice if there were a place where people of Asian descent can just get good information.'”
Kane said the events that led to him joining with Lopez to create AAPIGO began over a year ago. Kane, who is white, was walking with his wife and daughter, who are of Chinese descent, when a group of men began shouting racist slurs at them.
“A couple of guys in a pickup truck were driving down the street and yelled at me, my wife, and daughter ‘hey, go back to China, Kung flu,’ and stuff like that,” he told The Reload.
It was then, at the age of 38, he decided to buy his first gun. “I mean, that was kind of like the initial spark, but over the course of the year, things just kind of started getting worse and worse,” Kane said.
He immediately ran into problems buying his gun during California’s gun-store shutdowns, and a process that should have taken him 10 days dragged out to two months. That motivated him to get involved in gun-rights advocacy. And the continued attacks suffered by his Asian-American friends and family led him to the same conclusion as Lopez: There is a real need for an Asian-American gun group.
“What attracted me to this approach is that we have the same mindset of let’s emphasize education first and helping folks in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community learn about their rights and what they have at their disposal to make some informed decisions when it comes to purchasing a firearm and if that’s even right for them,” he said.
Chris Cheng, an Asian-American gun-rights activist who testified before Congress on gun rights in March, told The Reload an Asian group would fill a hole in current efforts by the gun-rights movement and the firearms industry to reach new demographics. He said many Asians come from countries where guns are negatively stigmatized as being tools of oppressive military and police regimes. That, combined with language and cultural barriers, can make it especially hard to get Asian Americans interested in gun ownership, according to Cheng. But not impossible.
“If we look at the success of outreach programs for women, we have a template and a blueprint for how this can be successful,” he said. “Now, the challenge is taking that and applying it to Asian Americans.”
He said Asian Americans have often been taught not to draw negative attention to themselves, even when faced with racist violence.
“I would venture to say all Asian Americans have experienced racism at some point in their lives,” Cheng said. “I definitely have, and you’re genuinely encouraged that if you are experiencing racism, Asians are often encouraged to just be quiet about it. Don’t report it to the authorities because you either can’t trust them, or they’re not going to do anything about it. So, the best course of action is often to just put your head down, take the punches on the chin, and just focus on doing good work.”
But the last year has been a “game changer” in the community, Cheng said. The onslaught of racist violence specifically targeting elderly Asian Americans has begun to change how the community views speaking out and even being armed. He pointed to the February murder of 84-year-old Thai immigrant Vichar Ratanapakdee in San Francisco as a particularly brutal example that shocked him and his community.
“We’re seeing increased attacks on the Asian-American community. We’re seeing calls for defunding the police. We’re seeing riots and social unrest. We’re seeing more anti-Asian language coming from politicians,” Cheng said. “If we can’t rely on society and law enforcement to protect us, then, naturally, Asian Americans are starting to wake up to this notion that I may be that first-generation gun owner for my Asian-American family because that is going to be the only way that I’m going to be able to protect myself and my family.”
Kane said he hopes AAPIGO will ultimately grow into an organization that can help bring Asians more completely into the fold of American gun ownership. He said he wants to help build a world where his 7-year-old daughter no longer has to be subjected to people yelling slurs at her while they drive down the street. And one where she will be trained and able to defend herself if necessary.
If his daughter is going to “grow up in a world where racism is as much a problem,” Kane said he wants her to be “able to exercise her right to be able to defend herself.”
Lopez said he and Kane have already recruited one member who is eager to help build AAPIGO, and they hope more people will rally to their side as they ramp up events.
“We’re super excited about what we can do, and we really are just trying to push as hard as we can with the limited resources we have to try to make this happen,” he said. “Right now, it’s just three guys. We welcome anybody and everybody to help us build this out. Help us educate as many Asian American and Pacific Islander gun owners that we can.”
UPDATE 9:16 pm Friday, April 23rd: The date of the Livermore, Calif AAPIGO event has been updated to reflect the rescheduling of the event.