Since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic over a year ago, individuals and organizations alike have been concerned about an ongoing problem: reactive violence toward the Asian American community. While many have advocated for Asian and Asian American safety through advertising campaigns, local events, and city politics, one industry in particular has taken to this tumultuous time as a unique marketing opportunity – the firearms industry. With the ever growing population of Asian Americans, gun lobbyists have shifted their sights toward this vast, untapped market of potential buyers, a move that has many community groups nervous.
“AAPIs are the fastest growing group in the U.S. and also more politically engaged than ever before. Much of this engagement was due to the hate and fear driven by vicious rhetoric spewed against our community,” stated Varun Nikore, Executive Director of the AAPI Victory Alliance. Asian Americans have had an 81% increase in population between 2000-2019, with 24% of that population being of Chinese descent. However, despite the significant number of individuals, they have remained the lowest-ranking group when it comes to gun ownership. In early 2020, only 3.1% of gun owners were Asian males, and 0.7% were Asian females. A miniscule amount in comparison to white males, who make up 55.8% of gun ownership, and white females at 16.6%. Lobbyists are taking notice of this disparity, and spinning it toward opportunity. Groups such as National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) have amped-up their outreach efforts with the help of Asian American spokespeople to put more guns in hands.
One such spokesperson is Chris Cheng, a sport shooter and NRA commentator who has been working alongside the recently-formed Asian American and Pacific Island Gun Owners (AAPIGO) Association, and had previously served on the Inclusion and Outreach Working Group for the NSSF. In 2012 he won the title of Top Shot on the History Channel show by the same name, and has frequently appeared on various podcasts, documentary specials, and shows to advocate for the Second Amendment. When asked about marketing toward AAPIs on The Reload, Cheng stated, “We have a template and a blueprint for how this can be successful.” A survey conducted by the NSSF indicated that there was a 42% increase in gun purchases by Asian Americans in the first six months of 2020. “It’s about putting guns in the hands of good people,” said Cheng, “I want to encourage Asian Americans to think about the Second Amendment, to think about these personal civil liberties that we have in our country.”
The AAPIGO Association, one of the groups Cheng has been closely associated with, formed in April of 2021 as a response to the increased interest in Asian gun owners. Co-founded by Patrick Lopez and Scott Kane, who met on the website Reddit, the two sought to be advocates for AAPI safety. Lopez, like Cheng, is of Asian descent, and Kane has an Asian wife and mixed-race daughter who had faced racially-charged aggression while out in public. However, Kane was later removed from the Association after advocating for tighter background checks during gun sales, and for voting democrat in the 2020 presidential election.
While Asian Americans may not be widespread gun owners, even with the recent uptick of sales, they have faced the consequences of gun related violence over the years. Between 2015 and 2019, the ratio of fatal gun encounters versus gun justifiable homicides was 83 to 1. In the commonwealth of Massachusetts, a gun justifiable homicide is one where a person uses deadly force as an act of self defense. To ensure the justification of deadly force, the person’s life must be in immediate danger and all other options of escaping or de-escalating the situation must have been exhausted. It is a last-resort act. However, the numbers show that Asian communities are more likely to experience guns on a more tragic level, with most gun related deaths being acts of suicide or in-home accidents. Data gathered by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that from 1999 to 2019, 10,000 Asians have lost their lives to gun violence. “It is a common myth that a good guy with a gun will keep us safe from a bad guy with a gun,” Po Murray, Chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance, told CNN.
Organizations like the AAPI Victory Alliance, the Violence Policy Center (VPC), and Moms Rising have all been acting as front-line opposition to this new marketing trend. A recent study released by the VPC stated that, “For any American, regardless of race or ethnicity, bringing a gun into the home increases the risk of death or injury to the owner or a family member.”
“The targeting of Asian Americans is just the latest example of how gunmakers will cynically exploit any tragedy to fatten their bottom line,” said Josh Sugarmann, Executive Director of the VPC, “regardless of the lethal real-world impact of their actions.”