Asian-Americans turn to gun shops in response to coronavirus hate crimes

By Rebeca Loyola
May 20, 2021

SAN GABRIEL VALLEY, CA- Jinyang Xioa, who likes to go by his American name Duke, is a firearm safety instructor who teaches his clients in his native language, Mandarin. Xioa has a past in the Chinese military. when he migrated to the US, he saw that people in the gun community had misconceptions about Asians handling guns.

“One time I went to a shooting range, I figured there is a lot of white people that thought Chinese with guns are dangerous.”

Xioa knows that anyone is capable of learning how to properly handle a firearm; he made it his mission to train his community.

In 2017 he established Ten-Four Tactical, a company that trains new and existing gun owners on how to properly handle guns.

“Before a couple years ago I feel a little bit weird. I was the only Asian and my English isn’t that good, but right now I’m kind of used to it.”

As a minority, he plays a crucial role in diversifying a predominately white gun community. Diverse firearm instructors are important for many reasons. One of them being that a white instructor might have prejudices about certain racial or ethnic groups. For example, Asian immigrants are often incorrectly assumed to be ignorant because of their accent, this social bias is described as accent discrimination.

This form of discrimination can turn into explicit racism. For example, this can happen when Asians with accents are told to “learn English”. 

However, members of Ten-Four Tactical don’t face this prejudice and receive the right training from a familiar face. 

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“We cannot protect you, but we train you to protect yourself”

At the start of the pandemic a wave of Americans bought guns, a report from 2020 California Safety and Wellbeing Survey shows that 110,000 Californians acquired firearms due to the pandemic. The results reveal that people were worried about all forms of violence.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System or NICS, has keep record of gun permits by month and year by state and type. In California there was a 30% increase in 2020  for background checks on firearms. The background checks were for: handguns, long guns, and other types of guns. 

Besides learning about firearm safety, members of Ten-Four Tactical have another goal. They will resist this era of Asian xenophobia and hate crimes. 

“I think just stop the Asian hate, people are the same, BUT as us, if people say Asian hate and want to attack us, ok we will fight back. But if not we’re good, that’s how people live together on this earth.”

Xioa says he doesn’t use his expertise with guns as a fear tactic. He lives by treating others as you would like to be treated.Before heading out to the field he holds a team meeting in his office to plan out what the training session will look like.

It’s an inviting and safe space. Everyone sits cross-legged in a circle, it creates an environment for bonding with one another. Xioa thinks it’s important that the team forms a relationship so that there is trust, he says “You know you can say Asian people we’re tight knit together.”

It’s members reflect the same values. 

“It is very pivotal for us to know how defend ourselves. What’s more important though, is how to make friendly bonds with other people, because through the guns and through the martial arts that I’ve trained in for so many years, we are building up a respective level so they know we’re respecting each other. I’m respecting you, I’m not abusing you because I have a gun.”

Jiaao Li
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Jiaao Li has trained under the instruction of Xiao for three months now. Just like his trainer, he doesn’t believe in using a gun to intimidate others. However, he says that right now is the time for Asians to stand up and resist. 

Ten-4 Tactical’s office is located in Azuza, a city located in the San Gabriel Valley. This region has a rich history of overseas Asian migration. The SGV extends from Pasadena all the way down south to Diamond Bar. 

Cities like Alhambra, Arcadia, all the way down to Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights are hubs of Chinese culture. The area is home to other Asian ethnic groups including: Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Cambodian and Indonesian. If you’re looking to take a food tour of authentic Chinese dishes start north of Colima in Hacienda heights and travel down south to Rowland Heights.

Map provide by San Gabriel Valley Partnership:

A large portion of Xioa’s clients come from the SGV, but his reputation extends beyond the region. 

“He’s one of the very good Mandarin speaking trainers, he trains people from all over.” Bread Lee is a good friend of Xiao and own his own gun shop in Chino Hills. 

 Why is Xiao so sought after and why is this niche of Asian gun owners underrepresented?

“As an Asian, our culture does not promote firearms.”

Lee is from Taiwan, he says that guns are banned in all Asian countries. The military is the only force to legally bare arms. For the majority of immigrants and even first-generation Asian Americans, owning a weapon is an unfamiliar concept.

“I’m Asian I never learned about guns I never knew about guns, I was scared… but since I’m learning I love it. Since I know how to use it, it’s cool. I don’t have any questions about it anymore.” 

Shan Shan Estacio is new to guns but no longer has a fear towards guns. She’s a woman who likes to challenge a damaging stereotype that holds Asian women as quite and shy. A bodybuilder, business-woman and newly trained gun owner, she doesn’t conform to the stereotype.

In California, members of the gun community are assumed to be of right leaning political beliefs and white. However, with this wave of new gun owners the community might gain some diversity, who will be there to train them?

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