Patrick Lopez, president of the Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association (APAGOA), and Top Shot champion Chris Cheng, a member of the APAGOA leadership team, spoke with the USCCA about the organization and the future of Asian Pacific American (APA) gun owners in the U.S. APAGOA’s main goal is to educate current and potential gun owners by providing the resources necessary to use their firearms safely and responsibly. For instance, the APAGOA offers a free PDF of the four rules of gun safety on its website in English, Filipino (Tagalog) and Japanese.

The organization has also inserted itself in the gun policy debate at the highest level. In July 2021, the organization submitted an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which included testimonies from APA men and women. While it is only a little over a year old, the APAGOA is already making an impact in the gun community and is destined for great things.

When and why did you establish the Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association?

Patrick Lopez said timing was everything for the creation of the Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association.

In March of 2021, there were a few things that were happening. One was that I just happened to go shooting with my brother-in-law and his friends, who all just happened to be Filipino. And then the Atlanta spa shootings [happened] around the same time. Chris Cheng also spoke at the Senate committee hearing, “Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence” [1:13:35]. This was coming off the election in 2020 and reports of increased gun purchases overall; also increased gun purchases from Asian Pacific Americans. Then also these reports of anti-APA hate crimes. So a lot of these things [were] all happening at the same time.

Patrick recalled that shooting with his brother-in-law and their friends was a really positive experience. He enjoyed having the opportunity to teach others what he had learned over the years.

I started thinking about some of these folks who are purchasing firearms for safety reasons. Again, all of this stuff is happening: COVID, anti-APA hate crimes and everything. I was just thinking, ‘These folks are purchasing firearms for the first time because they are scared. Shouldn’t there be some resources there for them to help make sure they are using their firearms safely and responsibly?’

He took that question to the web, searching for resources for Asian Pacific American shooters and wanting to help out new shooters. But the more he looked, the less he found.  

It seems like such as common-sense thing. I kept looking and didn’t find anything. And eventually, I said, ‘If there is really nothing that’s there, let me go try to start something.’ I talked to a few folks, and said, ‘I have this idea, does something like this make sense? Have you heard of any group like this, a national group focused on helping to educate and find resources for APA gun owners?’ And everybody I talked to said, ‘That is a great idea. […] Go make it happen.’

When you started out in firearms, did you find the 2A community to be welcoming/inclusive?

Once you get into certain groups and they understand you own a gun, it is almost immediately like being part of an extended family. I was really surprised — and maybe it is just the nature of Southern California — how open and welcoming nearly everybody was.

Patrick said, though he can only speak from his experience, it was easy to share stories and experiences with other gun owners. “You start asking, ‘Hey, can I see your gun?” or ‘I have this.’”

APAGOA received a warm reception at SHOT show as well. Show goers were very positive about the organization’s mission. “Everybody [said], ‘That’s a great idea; it’s a really good thing you guys are doing.’”

Chris Cheng found the inclusivity of the gun community to be a pleasant surprise.

I came from my Top Shot win 10 years ago. I was kind of expecting more bigotry against Asians in the gun community, but thankfully that didn’t really come to fruition.

However, Cheng worries the Asian community may be less perceptive to firearms than the firearm community is to Asian gun owners.

I think about my experience and my past perspective, and I think it is safe to assume that there are other Asians and people of color who carry negative perceptions about the firearms industry, [and] about the gun community. It’s only through real engagement, education and interaction are we able to bust stereotypes and bring more people into the fold, which is a core goal for APAGOA.

The Violence Policy Center believes gun manufacturers and gun advocates have shifted focus to America’s Asian community. Do you agree, and is that a bad or a good thing?

Cheng pointed out that diversity and inclusion is never a bad thing.

What was really interesting about VPC’s take is that they were basically trying to pooh-pooh diversity and inclusion. On a high level, that’s how I read it. They didn’t agree that the firearms industry should be reaching out to a new demographic to embrace diversity and inclusion. That was pretty off-putting, that was the thrust of their study.

In fact, Cheng said, the study referenced a talk he gave at the NSSF industry summit in 2015.

I was advocating for more marketing and messaging toward people of color. The reason for this is if we are going to win the battle for our gun rights, we clearly need to be reaching out to new demographics that we haven’t targeted before […]  I still believe that the firearms industry should be expanding the reach and talking to different audiences about gun ownership and learning how to shoot.

Shifting the message to fit more audiences can only help bridge more divides.

Because talking to an Asian American about firearms is going to be very different than if you talk to African Americans, like the National African American Gun Association and Philip Smith. They talk to their members in a very different way than Patrick and I talk to APA members. Some of that is cultural, some of that is country of origin, [and] some of that is language. It takes the right messengers and the right messages to target particular racial demographics.

Lopez agreed the attention on Asian gun owners is a good thing. It makes sense for larger organizations to being paying attention now, given the recent events that resulted in increased gun ownership among APAs. Plus, the new focus on the community provides more opportunities for positive role models.

Members enjoy a day of training at the range.
*Photo from APAGOA

Like being able to see, ‘Hey, there’s somebody that kind of looks like me that is doing these cool things with firearms.’ It is inspiring. I know growing up, not just withing firearms, but being able to see Filipinos or other APAs on TV, listening to them on the radio, or in movies is kind of inspiring to be able to say, ‘Hey, that is a Filipino person.’ It’s something that we pay attention to.

What role do you think the organization will play in the future? Where’s it headed?

We started out from this idea of new gun owners purchasing firearms for safety reasons. Our tagline is safety, education, community. We really are trying to focus on being a resource; providing support for people to make sure they are using their firearms safely and responsibly, Patrick said.

Though many members of APAGOA are based in California and the initial focus is on new gun owners, Patrick said they’re not stopping there.

Longer-term, to us, is expanding beyond our current base, primarily in California. Also moving together with the journey as you go from a new gun shooter to an experienced owner.

Though the journey starts with purchasing a firearm, gun owners may go through several phases of involvement in the firearms community, and APAGOA wants to be there through it all.

Some people might purchase a firearm, just stick it in their safe, and it just makes them feel good. […] But we have seen a lot of cases where people start with that first step, saying, ‘I’m afraid, I feel like a firearm is the best option for me,’ purchase it, and then they start to look into training. From training, they say, ‘OK, well, this seems pretty cool, let me move from a handgun and pistol to a rifle. And now that I got that mastered, what else can I do? Can I get into competitive shooting or training?’

Removing Barriers for Asian American Gun Owners

Chris wants to make sure the association is reaching every corner of the Asian Pacific American community.

There is this tremendous foreign language opportunity for APAGOA to fill. There are a lot of non-English speaking and reading APAs in our country. I used to come from a place of whatever country somebody lives in, they should speak the native language. And I still generally believe that, however, with the formation of APAGOA and all of the violence that we have seen against APAs, it has really changed my perspective. I don’t believe that English proficiency should be a requirement to defend yourself with a firearm. It shouldn’t be a requirement to exercise an American constitutional right. Then the question becomes how do we educate the first-time APA gun owner who doesn’t read or doesn’t speak English very well?

Chris would like to see APAGOA expand its reach into gun shops and ranges, to fill the language gap that can sometimes be seen as a barrier.

Part of the future we would love to see APAGOA get into is Asian language instruction [and] assistance with your 4473 background check form when you are purchasing a firearm. Maybe there are translation cards that we could create. If you are a Japanese American and you go to the gun shop, you can at least take this APAGOA information card and kind of explain who you are, what you want, etc. We don’t really know exactly what that solution looks like because it is pretty unprecedented. There is no other gun group out there that is focusing on foreign language.

How You Can Get Involved

Besides providing education and training for APAs, another element of APAGOA’s mission is to build a community. Follow the organization on Instagram or its other social media pages to show your support and to connect with like-minded individuals. If you would like to receive its newsletter or to become involved with the group, sign up here. Do you have any questions for Patrick or Chris that we may have not answered? If so, leave a comment below and let us know.