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Coronavirus: Asian-Americans turn to guns, GoPros to deter attacks

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When Eddie Song leaves his Manhattan home, it can feel like heading into battle. The Korean American startup founder and avid rider dons his armoured motorcycle jacket, motorcycle gloves, a skull face mask and a GoPro camera.

“The GoPro is on all the time whenever I leave the house now. Basically it’s a rolling camera,” Song said. “With the combination of looking intimidating and having the camera — if they pick a fight with me, they know I’m prepared.”

As the coronavirus first seen in China now ravages the U.S., Asian Americans are continuing to wrestle with a second epidemic: hate. Hundreds of attacks on Asian people have been reported, with few signs of decline. Rather than feel helpless, many are filming their interactions or carrying guns.

Others are training in deflection instead. Many Asian Americans say they want to safely confront racist bullying and harassment, and grassroots groups are sharing — virtually, of course — ways to defuse abuse.

Song, 41, made the camera a fixture after a middle-aged Latino man shoved him and demanded his shopping cart outside an Upper East Side Costco in February “because your people are the reason coronavirus is happening.” His Thai American wife, a nurse, goes out in scrubs in hopes of better treatment but also carries pepper spray.

Becky Gerhardus, a Cambodian American in Portland, Oregon, bought a handgun two months ago after reading about anti-Asian attacks, including a stabbing that wounded a Texas man and his two children. An Asian woman in her 20s, Gerhardus feared being stereotyped as an easy target.

“In these crazy times, I might be the only person that can keep myself safe in a bad situation,” said Gerhardus, who often went shooting at a range before buying a weapon herself.

Using the gun would absolutely be “the last resort,” she said.

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Background checks required to buy firearms hit an all-time high in March, according to FBI data. The agency doesn’t track background checks by race, but several media outlets have reported Asian Americans making up a large portion of those in long lines at gun shops in the last two months.

The demand surprised Alvin Lin, a Taiwanese American who shoots competitively and is a licensed instructor in Louisville, Kentucky. All of his Asian friends have asked him about owning a firearm or weapons training.

People who are serious about getting a gun should be committed to learning how to use it, said Lin, 31, who also owns a restaurant group.

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