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The pandemic-related rise in hate crimes and gun violence has left many Asian Americans frightened for their safety. But one organization is working to alleviate those fears through community outreach, education and the promotion of safe, responsible firearm ownership.

The Asian American and Pacific Islander Gun Owners (AAPI GO) club is a newly formed nonprofit, nonpartisan group co-founded by Bay Area residents Scott Kane and Vincent Yu along with Patrick Lopez from Southern California. The organization was established just a few weeks ago, and the group plans to hold its first meet-and-greet event at the Livermore Gun Club early next month. According to Lopez, several hundred interested residents have already reached out to the group on their website and through social media.

“The response has been very nice,” said Lopez, who is of Asian American descent. “The focus (of the group) is to educate and promote safe gun ownership with an emphasis on also providing resources to those who might not otherwise have access to information due to language barriers or other obstacles.”

By all accounts, the number of anti-Asian hate crimes continues to grow, with one study from the Stop AAPI Hate group based out of San Francisco State University citing over 1,200 self-reported accounts of violence and bigotry in California since the pandemic began. The Bay Area accounted for 706 of those accounts. A recent survey conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation puts the number of new Asian gun owners at 46% in the first two quarters of 2020.

For Yu, the recent mass shootings that killed eight people at three Atlanta-area spas, six of whom were Asian women, was the catalyst for him to get involved.

“I already owned a firearm for sports purposes, and I found that I shied away from the stigma of guns,” said Yu. “But what created a spark for me was the Atlanta shootings. It called (hate crimes) to attention, and I felt this anger and sense that I wanted to do something good, something productive.”

Kane, who is white, felt the same tug to make a difference following a more personal encounter. Kane’s Asian wife and their mixed-race child were verbally abused and spat upon by a truckload of men driving by them one afternoon as the family was walking down the street.

“My wife and daughter were shaken and in tears, and that got me thinking, ‘What if I wasn’t there?’ How can I protect my family if one of these (explicative) followed my wife home?” he wrote in a blog on the group’s website.

H.K. Kahng, from Portland, Oregon, understands Kane’s concerns. As a new member of AAPI GO, Kahng says he joined the organization for their focus on supporting a targeted group who have historically been underserved when it comes to gun ownership, education and safety.

“Owning a firearm comes with a lot of responsibilities to your family, to your community and to yourself,” said Kahng. “Education, training, practice and mindfulness are absolutely critical in responsible gun ownership, and AAPI GO's emphasis on safety training and education really resonated with me... I'd like to learn from other AAPI GO members of their journeys as gun owners, and I'd like to share what I've picked up with regards to firearm safety.”

Striving to fill a gap in resources for Asians who are targeted by hate crimes but feel helpless to protect themselves, while also circumventing the potential for inflaming bigotry and hate with the formation of a gun club, has spurred the three founders to ensure their organization is one of inclusiveness and support. And although the group is focused on Asian-Americans, all ethnicities are welcome.

“It’s a fine line between stirring the pot, seeing the Asian side, and gun control,” said Lopez. “We knew it would be problematic. (While) new gun owners are the focus, this is not a call to arms. It is about giving them the power to use guns safely and provide training and education.”

Yu takes it one step further.

“I would even go as far as to say that it is this balance that is our strength,” he said. “It keeps us honest and allows us to look at things without bias. We have no specific agenda, no extreme direction. All we want is to provide the best information we can in a nonpartisan way.”

For more information and updates, visit www.aapigo.org.