Rising Hate Against Asian-Americans Renews Gun Violence Debate

No US president, including Obama, has been able to reduce the number of guns in the country.

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US federal law prevents hunters from hunting migratory game birds with more than three shells in their shotgun. “That means our federal law does more to protect ducks than children. It’s wrong,” said Joe Biden in his election manifesto, promising to enact legislation to ban assault weapons.

As President, in response to the lethal mass shooting at a departmental store in Boulder, Biden called for a ban on assault rifles and high capacity magazines.

After every mass shooting in the US, this predictable dance between the two political parties takes place, with democrats calling for tougher gun laws and Republicans criticising them for attempting to take away people’s Second Amendment rights.

More guns are bought and fired, tragically cutting short innocent lives. No President including Obama has been able to reduce the number of guns in the country. I can walk into a store today and choose to buy a gun of my choice.

In response to the Boulder incident, referring to the Second Amendment, New York-based attorney Cyrus Mehta tweeted:

“The 2A does not deserve to be a protected right and pales in comparison to the lofty right to life.” This is the opinion that a majority of Indian-Americans have on gun ownership.

What Does the Desi Community Think?

Self-identifying as ‘largely peace loving’, only a minuscule section of the desi community chooses to own guns. But with every wave of violence – be it a mass shooting, BLM protests-related vandalism, or elections-related fear of violence – the subject of guns for self-defence pops up in Indian-American social circles.

President Biden announced that he might take executive action on gun violence, to keep people safe. The Asian community is certainly not feeling safe. There is a huge population of Indians, Chinese, and other Asian communities in urban American areas, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Families are concerned for the elderly, neighbours are worried for each other.

The mass shootings coming at a time when there has been a flurry of almost daily violent attacks against innocent Asians in multiple cities on both coasts, make Asian-Americans question whether they have the freedom to move around safely, for as basic as going about their basic chores.

San Francisco’s Chinatown has been a hotspot of attacks against Asians, caught on surveillance cameras and beamed to the world. AAPI communities fear – what if this is the tip of the iceberg?

The Aftermath of the Atlanta Spa Shootings

The deadly shootings at Asian-run spas in Atlanta, hiked the feeling of vulnerability. To protect Asian residents, NYPD announced that it would deploy members of its counterterrorism unit to patrol Asian neighbourhoods.

Police chiefs in Seattle and Oakland plan to increase police presence in Asian enclaves. San Francisco Mayor London Breed has asked the police to increase patrols in “areas with a high number of Asian residents, visitors, and businesses immediately,” she tweeted.

Rights groups across the country saw a pattern of hate against Asian Americans since the beginning of the coronavirus.

It started when Donald Trump started using racist terms like Chinese virus and Kungflu during speeches, creating an overall anti-Asian climate that has led to people perceiving Asian-Americans as outsiders and disease-carrying, increasing attacks on Asians.

One group called Stop AAPI Hate, a project based out of San Francisco State University, began collecting reports of these racist and discriminatory acts against Asian Americans on 19 March 2020.

They have found that spread over 47 states, about 9 percent of first-hand reported racist incidents, involved physical assaults, and 6 percent included being purposely spit on.

They have found that spread over 47 states, about 9 percent of first-hand reported racist incidents, involved physical assaults, and 6 percent included being purposely spit on.

Asian American Bar Association of New York noted that from January to November 2020, the NYPD saw an eightfold spike in reported anti-Asian hate crimes compared to the same period in 2019.

Unlike in the aftermath of 9/11, majority of the recent violent attacks have been on persons of East and Southeast Asian heritage, and not on South Asians. An Indian-American Silicon Valley CEO shared what many desis are also feeling, “The four years of Trump have brought racist tendencies of people out in the open. Even though currently our Asian friends and neighbours are sadly being attacked, we have seen that it takes very little for hate to spread, and who knows when the desi community could be on the receiving end.”

US President Reaches Out

Joe Biden met AAPI leaders in Atlanta on 19 March where he reassured them, “Hate has no safe harbour in America and it must stop.” AAPI civil rights groups have been meeting the Biden administration to address the increased xenophobic and violent incidents. Democratic lawmakers are reintroducing legislation to make law enforcement's response stronger in tackling hate crimes against Asian-Americans.

Shekar Narasimhan, the chairperson of the AAPI Victory Fund, who has been a loud proponent of Asian representation in Biden’s Cabinet, suggested in an interview with NPR, that there should be a designated point person in the government to coordinate on this, “Give us a point person, so every month we can have a briefing. That person can talk to us about what they've learned, what's going on, answer questions and will bring together people from other communities that tend not to get listened to.”

Manjusha Kulkarni, Executive Director of Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council, and Founder of ‘AAPI Hate’ testified before the House hearing on Asian American violence on 18 March, and spoke about it on MSNBC, “The hearing was important as this sent a message that it is a serious issue in our country. Now it is time for action. First time a hearing dedicated to Asian American issues since 1987.”

There have been multiple protests organised by AAPI groups against the hate crimes and racist incidents. Communities are coming together in unique ways to show support for the Asian communities. Hundreds of volunteers escorted elderly Asian-Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area, to a social media call to walk with anyone in Oakland's Chinatown neighbourhood, to help them feel safer.

A group called Asian American Federation tweeted that a large number of black people were seen in Chinatown to show solidarity with Asians, “They were showing up. Letting us know that they understood what was happening and had our backs.”

Harini Krishnan, the California Co-Director of South Asians for Biden responded, “Black and Asian communities have come together to advance the cause of justice.”

‘Will Have to Be Backed by Stronger Gun Control Laws’

Ajay Bhutoria, a staunch Biden supporter and AAPI community leader’s message aptly conveys the anxiety in the Asian community in the US:

“Asian-Americans are increasingly terrified and fearful for their lives and their safety because of these escalating threats against our people.” Very rightly he demands, “Stronger laws to report and handle hate crimes and stronger gun laws.”

The police, communities, advocacy groups and individual Americans are rallying to support the AAPI community, but their efforts will have to be backed by stronger gun control laws. President Biden urged the Senate to “immediately pass” two bills the House has approved that can change background check laws for gun ownership.

He argued that gun laws can’t be a “partisan issue,” further adding that, “this is an American issue.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi voiced that US Congress must approve the recently House-passed legislation to address gun violence. Barack Obama, who was unsuccessful in fighting for gun control reform during his presidency, urged officials “this is a normal we can no longer afford.”

It is not a normal terrified Asian-Americans can live with.

(Savita Patel is a senior journalist and producer, who produced ‘Worldview India’, a weekly international affairs show, and produced ‘Across Seven Seas’, a diaspora show, both with World Report, aired on DD. She has also covered stories for Voice of America TV from California. She’s currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She tweets @SsavitaPatel. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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