We've seen a lot of this anti-Asian hate during the pandemic. The hate not only hurt and instilled fear but also motivated more Asian Americans to buy guns for the first time.
Tsu-Yin Wu is a professor and lead researcher at Eastern Michigan University.
"When you look at racism, people feel it's abstract. But in our study, it's not. It has a significant impact," said Wu.
Professor Wu studies Asian American gun ownership. He's part of a team that surveyed around 900 Asian Americans. They found that people who experienced racism were more likely to buy a weapon.
"We also have seen the stress that people experience due to racism and discrimination, actually also predicts the intention for people who still have not have the gun, but they wanted to get one," said Wu.
The Firearm Industry Trade Association estimates sales to Asian Americans increased 43% in the first half of 2020. In Wu's survey, half of AAPI who purchased guns were first-time buyers, like Baron Cabalona.
In a quiet Chicago neighborhood, Cabalona picked up his son from school after a long day of working as a nurse. He didn't think he'd own a gun and still doesn't know much about it.
"Yeah. I don't really know what the model is. I have no idea. I don't know what the make and model is. I'm sorry. I'm not a gun person. It's not my thing," said Cabalona.
BARON CABALONA: It's safe and away from my family.
NEWSY'S CAT SANDOVAL: And your kid doesn't have access to this?
CABALONA: He can't get to the door.
He may not consider himself a gun person, but after a 60-year-old Vietnamese man was attacked and called an ethnic slur five minutes away from his workplace, he made up his mind.
"That was really sort of the tip of the iceberg. I mean, I'm going to do this, and I'm going to do it the right way, which is get the FOID card in an effort to purchase a gun," said Cabalona.
To purchase a gun in Illinois, you need a FOID card, or Firearm Owner's Identification Card, issued by the state police.
"After I applied for it, a lot of my coworkers said, 'oh, can you help me get one?' So I said, 'sure.' And health care is — there are many Asian people in there. So, you know, they felt like it was also the right time for them," said Cabalona.
They save people by day but when they clock out, Cabalona and his fellow health care workers worry about their lives and protecting their families. Still, Cabalona's wife Louella doesn't like guns.
"I had concerns. I asked him why he wanted to, and he just said he wants it for protection, that's it," said Louella.
She didn't know until this interview that anti-Asian hate influenced her husband's decision to arm himself.
"We always feel like it's not going to happen to me. People are not going to spit on me or, you know, curse at me or slash me in the face while I'm on the train. But the reality is, like people close to me, like my husband, know and feel that it can. And that it actually moves him to act and own a weapon," she said.
A Pew study found four in 10 Americans live in a household with a gun, though Asian Americans, compared to other ethnicities, were the least likely to own a firearm.
Chris Chen is a professional marksman and advisor for the Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association.
"And there is this pervading stereotype that guns and gun ownership — it's only a White person thing, you know, which couldn't be farther from the truth," said Cheng.
"A lot of Asian Americans are putting all this together and understanding that law enforcement can't always be there for us. And if you understand and accept that premise that law enforcement can always be there for us, then we have to be our own first responder and take responsibility for our own personal protection and safety."
Buying a gun was a reluctant step for Cabalona, but one he believed was necessary.
"You can't control the environment. And that I think preparedness is always something that we can do to help ourselves for situations," said Cabalona.
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