By Colin Mo
With gun control one of the hot button issues of the 2016 Presidential campaign, Asian-American voters could matter in unexpected ways. Recent studies show that Asian-Americans regard gun control as “important,” more so on average than other ethnicities.
According to the Pew Research Center, the support for gun control generally surpassed the support for gun rights as of July last year, but only barely. Yet for Asian-American voters, that support rises to 80 percent, according to 2014 data from APIAVOTE and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
One reason for that disparity might be that Asians are the least likely ethnicity to own a gun.
The Understanding Diversity in Target Shooting and Hunting research commissioned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation in 2013 found that Asian-Americans were the highest ethnic group to say that “in my own culture, owning a firearm is not desirable” (38%) and that “gun ownership negatively impacts my ethnic community” (35%).
The report put the likelihood of Asians owning a gun at 24 percent. A report by Nate Silver in 2008 put the percentage even lower, at 15 percent.
There has been a divide between US-born and foreign-born Asian immigrants when it comes to their support for stricter gun laws, with data indicating that older Asian-Americans are more supportive of stricter gun laws, according to 2014 data from APIAVOTE and Asian Americans Advancing Justice
“First generation immigrants are more conservative, with their own culture. But second or third generations, their mind-set is very different from first generations. It’s more American-oriented,” observes Samuel Tang, a pastor for a Chinese Church group in Evanston and first-generation immigrant who has lived in America for over 20 years. “Ownership of a gun is a freedom of choice in America [but] I think the government should have some guidelines or rules for certain guns to be illegal for citizens to carry or own.”
Tang also stated that he believes that gun control is “one of the most debated issues for the coming election,” and that “in the Chicago area, most Asian-Americans are against [guns].”
Chris Cheng, a professional marksman and the champion of History Channel’s fourth season Top Shot competition, a reality television show featuring competitors in shooting challenges, may be the most dramatic example of a changing demographic.
Cheng, a second-generation immigrant, states that he had “a very positive foundation and experience for firearms as a young kid,” and that his “Asian family and friends were fairly supportive of my decision to take up the shooting sports.”
On the other hand, Vivek Murthy, the current Acting Surgeon General of the United States and also a second-generation immigrant, drew opposition from the National Rifle Association when he was nominated to the office due to Murthy’s position that gun violence is a threat to public health.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s argued about demographic to demographic,” says NRA spokesperson Lars Dalseide. “Asian-Americans compete in tactical police competitions all the time.”
A breakdown of Asian-Americans indicates that there is only a 12 percent difference among groups in their support for gun control, with Vietnamese and Koreans the strongest advocates.
Support for Stricter Gun Laws Among Asian-Americans, 2014
“Generally speaking, Asians are a pretty apathetic voting bloc,” adds Cheng. “The second amendment is not first and foremost in the immigrants’ minds.”
Contrary to the data, Cheng argues that “Asians are not necessarily pro-gun control. I’d like to think that most Asian-Americans don’t like to think about gun control or gun rights.”
“If you come to America, you should believe in American values. While a desire for better economic opportunity and freedom are important, understanding our Constitution is arguably even more important. The right to defend yourself with a gun, women’s rights, and civil rights are just a few of the many freedoms we value in America,” adds Cheng.
Cheng notes that he was recently invited to join the NSSF’s Diversity Advisory Board to help the firearm industry increase minority participation in the shooting sports, and is excited to continue advocating for diversity in America.
With gun control being possibly one of the more divisive issues as the 2016 elections draw near, the evolving attitudes of Asian-American voters regarding their stance on guns may very well determine which candidates they shoot for.