Coronavirus Fears Drive Chinese Immigrants To SGV Gun Shops

Gun Effects in the City of Industry has been reporting more traffic in the last week or so. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Tyler Chang has a new baby, a new home in Diamond Bar, and the instinct to protect both in the age of coronavirus.

That's how the computer programmer wound up in a City of Industry gun shop for the first time, staring at rows of shotguns lining the walls. Rap metal blared from the speakers as Chang, who is from China, imagined his nightmare scenario: A pandemic forces company shutdowns and leads to mass unemployment.

"People won't have money, and they won't be able to eat," Chang, 28, said in Mandarin. "And if they don't have food, they'll have to steal."

Because of its large Chinese clientele, Gun Effects in the City of Industry uses bilingual signs. (Josie Huang/LAist)

There could be riots, he said, forcing him to fend off intruders. Chang said he knows it sounds unlikely but it's important to prepare.

His friend Derek Zhao who accompanied him, nodded: "You remember 1992? The riots in Los Angeles?"

A SURGE IN CUSTOMERS

Gun shops around the San Gabriel Valley that cater to Chinese immigrants report a surge in business as customers grow increasingly anxious about their personal safety with each day COVID-19 widens its reach in the U.S.

Gun Effects, where Chang was shopping, said its customer base has jumped from half Chinese to about 70%. Arcadia Firearm and Safety reports a tenfold increase in business. Rowland Sporting Goods estimates sales are up 500%.

This isn't just happening in Southern California, according to The Trace. Gun shops in Washington state, which has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S, are also seeing increased traffic from customers of Chinese descent.

The line for the register at Gun Effects in the City of Industry stretches almost to the door, just minutes before closing. (Josie Huang/LAist)

With minutes to go before closing on a recent evening at Gun Effects, 30 people were still in Dennis Lin's shop and the line for the register stretched almost to the door.

"Probably about like a week or two ago, it started getting busier and busier," Lin said. "I would say a couple hundred people pass by here just in one day."

Office clerk April Zhao came to Gun Effects with her father, whom she said was eager to buy a gun because all his friends were doing it. The Rancho Cucamonga resident said she herself was scared that she would be physically attacked for being Chinese because the coronavirus originated in the city of Wuhan.

"So I have to protect my family and my son," Zhao said.

Has she experienced any racism so far?

"Not yet," she said. "I just see the news."

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DISCRIMINATION AND BULLYING

News outlets have chronicled how Asians are facing discrimination and bullying around the world, including in Southern California.

Well-known conservatives such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Fox News host Tucker Carlson have created unease by using the term "Chinese coronavirus."

Asian American politicians and activists have criticized the phrasing. They've also called out the media for its reflexive use of photos showing Asian people in masks to illustrate stories about coronavirus.

Despite the ramped-up tensions over coronavirus, Win Tun, who was looking for a rifle at Gun Effects, said he is not scared about being targeted like some of the Chinese-born shoppers around him.

Win Tun, an electrical engineer from Monterey Park, said that because he grew up in the U.S., he doesn't share the same fears of being targeted like Chinese-born gun buyers. (Josie Huang/LAist)

"Me growing up here, I feel everybody is the same," said Tun, an electrical engineer, who came from Myanmar as a child almost 20 years ago. "You have your right, we have our right, everybody knows it."

A HISTORY OF TURBULENCE

But first-time Chinese gun buyers have other things on their mind than stopping prejudice in its tracks, according to David Liu, owner of the Arcadia gun store.

Liu, who is from China, said that turbulent Chinese history has taught its people to expect the worst, even violence.

"Americans, nobody ever invaded you," Liu said, who wore a mask over his face. "China's always in chaos. They're always in crisis. So people have a sense of danger more than Americans."

David Liu teaches gun safety to customers in his Arcadia gun shop. (Josie Huang/LAist)

On a recent afternoon, two couples — one from San Marino, the other from Arcadia — browsed his small shop on the third floor of a shopping complex. Liu prominently displays "Make America Great Again" caps and posters of the action movie character John Wick, known for his expert gunplay.

Liu said because China heavily restricts private gun ownership, most of what his Chinese customers know is from watching movies like John Wick, and that can create safety problems.

Inside David Liu's Arcadia gunshop. (Josie Huang/LAist)

"When they see a gun, they just pick it up and pull that trigger," Liu said. "We basically have to yell at them. I will be a little tougher on them in the beginning because you want them to remember."

Outside the store, he's perched a bottle of hand sanitizer on a small table for customers to use, as well as printed advice in Chinese on what models of handguns to buy and a plea that customers not overstock on ammunition. He's already sold out once before.

At the larger Rowland Sporting Goods, managers say they carry pallets worth of ammunition and are ready for the onslaught of new business they're getting.

March typically presents a lull at the store before hunting season picks up later in the spring. But it was abuzz on a weekday as managers fielded questions from customers like Eva Hung, a stay-at-home mom from Rowland Heights.

Manager Tank Tan helps a customer at Rowland Sporting Goods. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Hung, who had never touched a firearm before this visit, had bypassed the handguns and was gamely trying on a Remington 870 shotgun.

"It's too hard to squeeze a handgun and I don't have time for target practice," Hung said. "It'll be easier to shoot a shotgun."

She hopes, though, to never use it. She brightly said maybe the sight of the shotgun, or the metallic click it makes, would be enough to scare off intruders.

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