SF Chinese group promotes gun ownership after community crime scare

Mayoral candidate Ellen Lee Zhou poses with gun at a gun show at the Cow Palace in March 2019. Zhou is among those calling for the Chinese community in San Francisco to arm themselves.

SF Chinese group promotes gun ownership after community crime scare

San Franciscans, would you believe there’s a renewed gun rights movement rooted right here in our liberal City by the Bay?

And it’s growing — albeit gingerly — among one of our oldest local groups: The San Francisco Chinese community.

Now, let me not sensationalize. The numbers of folks involved are still in the hundreds, according to organizers.

But growing fear is creating an environment ripe for growth: If you read Chinese-language newspapers, a perception of rising crime against Chinese locals is the hot story of the moment.

Statistics have not yet borne out a rise in crime against the Chinese community, but a handful of crimes have been high profile enough to stir people mightily.

From a 74-year-old woman kidnapped in Crocker-Amazon and raped for almost five hours, to the public, daytime beating and robbery of the 56-year-old chairman of the Wong Family Benevolent Association, violent crime has gripped local Chinese news media and its audience in recent months.

Wendy Wong, for one, is fed up feeling like a victim, she told me.

The 32-year Sunset District resident and her group, the Coalition for Good Neighborhoods, are organizing gun education meetings for the San Francisco Chinese community.

“If the police [are] not able to enforce the law, if the victims are not protected and we have been victimized, again and again, and again, it’s about time for us to unify and see how we can protect themselves,” she said Wednesday.

She told me she isn’t a “pro-gun” person. “I’m not like that. Eye-for-an-eye is not what I believe in,” she said. But after the recent high-profile attacks, people in the Chinese community are “paralyzed” by fear, she said.

At least 200 people in her social media group on WeChat showed interest in learning more about gun ownership, she told me. She’s already hosted a meeting on local gun rights with a dozen or so attendees.

The World Journal, a national Chinese-language newspaper with a San Francisco edition, published a story on Wong’s effort Saturday. That sparked even more interest.

“I believe there will be more people,” Wong said. Gun range operators reached out to her after the World Journal coverage dropped.

When I first read the World Journal story, with the handy-help of Google Translate, my jaw dropped. You have to understand, San Francisco is so firearm-unfriendly we don’t even have a gun store anymore.

But Wong is far from alone.

Mayoral candidate Ellen Lee Zhou also backs arming the Chinese community.

While some outside the Chinese community may discount Zhou’s influence, calling her a long-shot candidate, she finished 2018’s mayoral race with a respectable 9,521 votes citywide and enjoys regular media exposure in local Chinese-language media. So while she may not have gotten in spitting distance of Breed’s votes last year, she still has a stage.

“Can you imagine if all the Asian people owned a gun and they could protect themselves?” she told me Wednesday, with a lilt in her voice conveying this would be her utopia.

I, of course, had to push back a bit — what about all of our recent mass shootings? Didn’t more guns in our society make those possible? Think of Gilroy, I said.

“The people who shoot at us, the mass shootings, they’ll always get [guns], because they’re bad,” she answered. “Good people like you and me, who have common sense, if we could carry we could come out and defend ourselves.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised — Zhou has campaigned at Cow Palace gun shows to reach those who she considers her natural constituency. She’s a gun owner and, she said, a member of the National Rifle Association.

Still, gun-ownership support is far from universal in the San Francisco Chinese community.

Pius Lee, chairman of the Chinatown Neighborhood Association, organized a political response quickly after the robbery of the chairman of the Wong Family Benevolent Association last month.

He told me simply stepping up police patrols in Chinatown, and even the soon-to-come expansion of surveillance cameras on Stockton Street, should help. There was also a $20,000 award put out by the community to anyone who could help identify the attackers.

“People don’t feel safe,” Lee acknowledged by phone Wednesday. But, “we don’t want to encourage people to arm themselves, it’s too dangerous, it’s not in today’s society. We have to rely on the police to protect us, but we want them to do a better job.”

Supervisor Gordon Mar, who represents the Sunset and Parkside neighborhoods, has taken a public stand asking the San Francisco Police Department for more demographic information on crimes to truly see if the Chinese community is seeing disproportionate attacks.

Mar told me he wants to organize educational talks to push back against the rising notion of gun ownership in San Francisco. He’s heard it growing, too.

“This is an important conversation to engage in right now, in the wake of the horrifying tragedies in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton,” he told me.

“I understand the heightened fears about public safety within the Chinese community, including many of my constituents,” he added. But, “we need to ensure all communities are safe, but increasing gun ownership doesn’t do that, it makes us less safe.”

And an increase in gun ownership may endanger all of San Francisco, he said, regardless of community.

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