Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association: Grassroots Firearm AdvocacyFrom RECOIL: Lars Smith
RECOIL SITS DOWN WITH CHRIS CHENG TO TALK ABOUT THE APAGOA
The 2020s got off to a wild start, with pandemic lockdowns, runs on goods, medical equipment, and food, and a general feeling of unease. Gun purchases, particularly among first-time gun owners, reportedly surged as people discovered that their fellow man might not be as benevolent and well-wishing as they’d hoped, while law enforcement was forced to scale back their services.
Among all this, reports of hate crimes against minorities, particularly in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, shot up to record levels. Driven partly by animosity against those perceived to be from China (which drew significant public ire, rightly or wrongly, due to its apparent role in being the birthplace of the pandemic), partly by generalized fear and anxiety over the blossoming global medical crisis, and entirely by ignorance and hate, the headlines were impossible to ignore.
As a poorly represented segment of the gun-owning public and a demographic not famous for being enamored with firearms (with some obvious exceptions), there was a lot of well-founded fear in the AAPI community. Groups like the Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association rose to help bridge the sociocultural gap and bring this demographic into the gun-owning fold. We spoke with Chris Cheng (cofounder of APAGOA, and an already prominent figure in both the gun and LGBTQ+ world, who’s well versed in preaching the gospel of self-defense to underserved demographics) about what he and APAGOA are doing this year and beyond to make a positive impact in the AAPI community.
RECOIL: Please introduce yourself, and can you explain what APAGOA is?
Chris Cheng: My name is Chris Cheng, and I am History Channel’s Top Shot Season 4 Champion. My background is I’m a self-taught IT geek who loved watching Top Shot and was inspired to apply for my favorite TV show. Against all odds, I beat 17 professionals using a variety of weapons (including a grenade launcher) to win $100,000, the title of “Top Shot,” and a professional marksmanship contract with Bass Pro Shops.
After winning Top Shot, I quit my job at Google to shoot full time and learn as much as I could about the firearms industry and firearms culture. I wasn’t a “gun guy” before Top Shot and, to be frank, I did not care about the Second Amendment until learning more about our civil rights, and how my home state of California continually violates our rights with the constant barrage of ineffective and unconstitutional gun control laws.
Once I learned and realized how Americans living in other states have way more gun rights than we do in California, that infuriated me as extremely unfair, un-American, and unconstitutional. This inspired me to speak out for our freedoms and advocate for all Americans to exercise our constitutional rights.
The Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association, APAGOA, started as a result of a terrible moment in our country’s history. At the start of the pandemic in early 2020, there was a drastic increase in the number of racist attacks against Asian Americans in our country.
Anti-Asian sentiment from political leaders and media contributed to this notion that Asian Americans were somehow a threat to giving and spreading COVID more than other American demographics. Certain mentally unstable and criminally minded individuals took these negative opinions as permission to attack and sometimes kill unarmed, innocent Asian Americans.
The most personally upsetting incident happened in my hometown of San Francisco just minutes away from where I live. An 84-year-old Thai-American man named Vicha Ratanapakdee was taking a walk around the block during an intense period of COVID shelter-in-place lockdown. Unprovoked, he was violently knocked to the ground from behind. “Grandpa Vicha” succumbed to his injuries. To add insult to injury and death, our District Attorney Chesa Boudin sided with the criminal, which grievously damaged trust in the criminal justice system. Thankfully, DA Boudin was successfully recalled by the voters of San Francisco.
As a result of similar hate crimes going unpunished in our country, tied with reduced trust in the criminal justice system and law enforcement, many APAs have been asking the simple question of “how can I keep myself and my family safe?” Naturally, a firearm has come into the conversation, which for some APAs is the first time it has been considered — this is a notable fact to point out.
APAGOA was founded by Patrick Lopez in 2021 as a response to the threat, anger, sadness, and confusion facing the APA community. He was searching for an APA gun group and was unable to find any substantive group.
Coincidentally, I was receiving an inordinately high number of questions from APAs about learning how to shoot, how to purchase their first gun, and how to stay safe. This signaled to me that there was a strong desire and need for an org like APAGOA. I was connected to Patrick, and we brought in additional board members and volunteers to help start things.
APAGOA’s mission is focused on providing safety, education, and community resources to the APA community and our allies from all racial and political backgrounds.
What makes APAGOA different from other RTKBA groups organized around a particular demographic?
CC: APAGOA is very unique because there are a large number of Asian languages and cultures we have to take into consideration when connecting and providing information and services to APA gun owners.
For example, in China there is no concept of personal firearms ownership, and therefore Chinese Americans are less likely to own firearms because they are likely to lack a first-generation gun owner in their family. However, in the Philippines, private gun ownership is very strong, and therefore Filipino Americans are more likely to have a first-generation gun owner in the family, which is where traditions and heritage begins.
There’s another unique pain point where many APAs are non-English speaking/reading, which can make purchasing a firearm and going to range difficult or infeasible. Imagine trying to learn firearms safety in a language you don’t understand or trying to complete the 4473 background check form in a language you can’t read. Many APAs get intimidated or confused and simply don’t give firearms a try.
While I do believe citizens of a country should learn how to speak the native language, I also believe that speaking and reading English should not be a barrier to exercising a natural-born, Constitutional right. Put another way, our government shouldn’t use a language requirement to prevent an American from protecting themselves with a gun.
English speakers shouldn’t have any more rights than non-English speaking Americans. Self-defense is a universal language, and I support all individuals who decide to take personal responsibility for their safety and not outsource it to our government.
As you say, AAPI encompasses a fairly broad category of people, with a lot of diverse experiences. Is it difficult to navigate, and what helps you accomplish that?
CC: This is a great follow-up question. It’s such a broad category that we aren’t fully aligned on whether to say “Asian American Pacific Islander,” “Asian Pacific American,” or just “Asian American.” It can be difficult to navigate since we want to be inclusive and comprehensive, but also succinct. Asian Americans are often treated as a single monolithic group, yet there are many disparities amongst various Asian ethnicities with regard to socioeconomic status, salary, and education.
That said, there are definitely common threads that run through all Asian communities, which are family and safety. Oh, and I can’t leave out food. Food is the way Asians bond and show love and affection. If we double-click into each of these with an APA lens, family and food are common concepts we all understand. Safety is a universal concept as well, but firearms ownership is a less common way for APAs to increase their safety. However, we are seeing that quickly change, and APAGOA is here to provide education and resources for first-time shooters and gun owners in our community.
In pursuit of that, how do you and APAGOA define success, and how do you expect that to change as the movement grows?
CC: APAGOA’s success is defined by traditional metrics such as member sign-ups, social media followers, and what people are saying about the organization. Success also means APAGOA inspires and implements positive change in the firearms industry and culture. For the past two years, we’ve seen unprecedented 43-percent year-over-year increases in the rate of new APA gun owners. APAGOA understands and appreciates that we must recruit new gun owners and assist them through their first gun purchase. As the movement grows, we will also stay focused on first-time shooters as well as the needs of APA gun owners who are long-time gun owners.
Additionally, many long-time APA gun owners have longed for a stronger sense of community. APAGOA is one outlet and option for APAs across the country to connect and bond around our shared interest around firearms, self-defense, freedom, liberty, and fun.
Diversity is valuable, but representation and a natural sense of community is too. What has been the biggest roadblock so far to achieving that success?
CC: The biggest roadblock has been finding volunteers who have the time and skills to help APAGOA accomplish its goals. This is very common with new nonprofits, so we will overcome this challenge like other organizations. Everyone, including myself, is volunteering their time and energy to support the cause of providing safety, education, and community for APA gun owners. APAGOA is an incredibly grassroots organization that’s only in its second year of existence.
We are also looking for APAs with foreign language fluency to assist with translating firearms safety, education, and training materials. We have already completed a few wonderful diagrams showing the four rules of firearms safety that are translated into Filipino/Tagalog and Japanese.
We hope to one day facilitate the training of firearms instructors in various APA languages, so instructors can offer an impactful service to their communities and customers. APAGOA has heard from certain APAs living in certain parts of the country that firearm instruction in Chinese and Korean in particular could have a big impact.
We’re always looking for volunteers, and we can be reached via our website www.APAGOA.org. If you are interested in volunteering for APAGOA, please reach out to us.
Shifting gears a bit, the Violence Policy Center has attacked you and APAGOA for encouraging the firearms industry to directly speak to Asian Americans. They’re accusing you and the industry of exploiting APA fear for profit. How do you respond to these attacks?
CC: The anti-gun lobby continually assumes that everything the gun industry does is for profit with a willful disregard for human life. The VPC’s recent report accuses that “firearms are promoted as risk-free tools,” which is completely false. Firearms safety training and education always focus on how firearms are tools with inherent risks.
To reiterate what I mentioned earlier, APAGOA is a nonprofit organization whose goal isn’t to make money. We will never become a grifter organization like Black Lives Matter whose CEO bought a $6 million mansion for her personal use, using nonprofit funds. If APAGOA were to ever get to that point, I would publicly call it out and tender my board seat immediately.
The irony of so many of these anti-gun organizations is that they support diversity and inclusion initiatives and love to point out corruption everywhere but their own backyard. I don’t understand how anti-gun organizations think people of color can protect ourselves when we are targeted by violent criminals, many of whom have guns. Are we supposed to get on our knees to try and negotiate for our lives?
The simple answer for me is that people of color should consider firearms ownership just like anyone else.
I don’t want more APAs to become victims. I will continue encouraging APAs to exercise our Second Amendment right to keep our communities safe.
Guns are absolutely for everyone, and while there’s a popular perception that they’re an exclusively old, white guy thing, that does seem to be changing thanks to folks like you. What is APAGOA focusing on right now?
CC: We are aware we have limited time, money, and resources, so we have to be extremely thoughtful about where we can make the biggest impact. We are focused on events, partnerships, and resources that support our motto of safety, education, and community.
APAGOA submitted an amicus brief [for the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association vs Bruen Supreme Court case] in support of concealed carry as a response to the racist anti-Asian attacks occurring across our country. We want to educate APAs about our civil rights and how we can protect ourselves from being targeted.
What’s your next big move?
CC: I recently announced the formation of a new firearms NFT marketplace called Revolve. The wildly successful NFT auction with my RECOIL magazine Issue 56 cover back in October signaled to me that there’s tremendous potential for NFT technology to have a positive impact in the firearms space. I’m still amazed that we generated $31,000 in sales for 10 NFTs of the RECOIL cover art promoting #2AForAll. It really goes to show how gun owners are interested in supporting inclusion and diversity in many forms.
Revolve is going to be the key platform that brings the entire firearms industry and community into the realm of NFTs and what’s being called “web3” — aka the next generation of the internet.
I look forward to Revolve supporting the gun community through NFT products that will provide value and utility to their owners. APAGOA, RECOIL magazine, and our industry peers will all stand to benefit.
How can we learn more about APAGOA?
CC: You can follow us on social media as well as APAGOA.org. We are also at major gun shows like the NRA Annual Meeting, USCCA Expo, and the SHOT Show. Please message us even if it’s just to say hi.From RECOIL: Lars Smith