Six months ago, Svetlana Kim was so scared of guns, she couldn’t even look at an image of one without feeling anxious.
If she was home watching a movie that suddenly depicted gun violence, the 47-year-old accountant would scramble to hit the fast-forward button on the remote. If she couldn’t skip the scene, she would shut her eyes, and her husband would gently put his hand over hers until the scene was over. Kim knew it was just a movie, but in those moments, she couldn’t help but feel like she was in the victim’s shoes, staring the shooter in the eye.
“My brain was always signaling danger. I just felt like, it’s here, it’s present,” says Kim, who blames empathy and imagination for her visceral reaction, since she has never personally experienced gun violence. “It was bad like that, and I couldn’t control it.”
That all changed when something scarier came along. Months into the pandemic, people who looked like Kim were being shoved and kicked to the ground, punched, stabbed and slashed, while doing everyday activities like walking around the neighborhood, shopping and riding buses and trains. One after another, unprovoked, racist attacks against Asian Americans being unfairly blamed for the COVID-19 virus started to increase in major U.S. cities. Kim wondered if she could be the next victim.
“It was a turning point when I saw that people just randomly got attacked based on their race,” says Kim, a Korean American, who lives in Downey, Calif.
On March 3, Kim went from being a “really anti-gun person” to the new owner of a Springfield Armory handgun.
After months of rising anti-Asian hatred, many others like Kim are having a change of heart about firearms. Tired of relying on bystanders for aid that sometimes never comes, more Asian Americans are bucking entrenched cultural perceptions of guns and overcoming language barriers to help fuel a spike in U.S. gun ownership. While there is no official data on firearm purchases by Asian Americans, a survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) indicated that Asian Americans bought 42% more firearms and ammunition in the first six months of 2020 than they did in the same timeframe the year before. At Jimmy’s Sportshop in Mineola, N.Y., where guns and pepper spray have been flying off the shelves since the pandemic, gun purchases by Asian buyers have surged 100% due to recent fears of attacks, according to Jimmy Gong and Jay Zeng, the shop’s Chinese-American owners.
Asians have been historically underrepresented among gun owners, so much so that major national demographic surveys conducted on gun ownership trends in the past have left out Asians as a category entirely. A 2013 NSSF report on diversity found some reasons why. About 35% said gun ownership negatively impacts their ethnic community, while 38% said owning a firearm is not desirable in their culture, according to the report, which was based on a national survey of 6,000 white, Black, Hispanic and Asian adults. That was true for Reduta, who waited a year to tell his family that he had bought a gun. Kim still has not shared the news with her two sisters.
“Asians never like guns,” says David Liu, another gun shop owner who has seen a spike in his Arcadia, Calif. business. “They only buy guns after they’ve become a victim.”
I suspect that the Asian community was never that into guns because in most Asian countries, legal civilian gun ownership is either extremely restricted or non-existent.
Asian immigrants, therefore, have very little in the way of native gun culture.
The last line “They only buy guns after they’ve become a victim” is a significant point. Even though the Asian community might not have a gun culture when they are threatened they adapt and arm themselves.
No community targeted for violence should be at the mercy of their attackers.
Meet force with force and defend yourself.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know where I am going to go next with this.
The Jewish community in America needs to take note of this. Like the Asian community, the Jewish community has little to no native gun culture, having been systematically disarmed in Europe and then concentrated in non-gun-friendly locations like New York City. And like the Asian community, we are also being targeted for hate crimes. It’s time the Jewish community arm itself as well, to be prepared to face violence with violence and end the attacks that threaten us.