By Henry Lo, Ethnic Media Services
President Joe Biden reasserted during his State of the Union address the urgency to act on gun violence. I know first-hand just what gun violence can do to a community because on January 21, 2023, the city I love and was elected to represent experienced one of the largest mass shootings in California’s history.
Like many other Asian Americans in Los Angeles County and across the country, I was excited to spend Lunar New Year with loved ones. An important holiday for Asian Americans, this Lunar New Year was the first time in a long time many of us were able to celebrate together. It was supposed to be a holiday full of love and light, and looking to the future.
Our lives were interrupted when we learned a gunman had targeted two dance ballrooms and killed 11 innocent people. The Monterey Park community was shocked, heartbroken, and scared. How could this happen here? A safe city that has been previously ranked as one of the country’s best places to live because of our schools, our local businesses, and our opportunities? And just as we began to process what happened, not even 48 hours later and about 400 miles north of us, another mass shooting unfolded in Half Moon Bay, California.
Unfortunately, shootings like these are not blips. These two incidents are all but just two more examples of a much wider tragedy long plaguing our communities: gun violence.
I came to Washington, D.C. this month to keep the stories of those impacted alive and shed a light on just how gun violence is tearing our communities apart. The issue of gun violence is nothing new to Asian Americans. We are still reeling and have suffered everywhere from California to Georgia to Indiana, from temples to spas to sidewalks. We are often viewed as a model minority, doing relatively well and devoid of problems. The truth is, Asian Americans have an array of our own social problems. Lack of accessibility to culturally competent mental health services, gender-based violence, and poor labor conditions all contribute to the violence against and within our community. Anti-Asian hate and blame have compounded these problems and made us walking targets. But we cannot talk seriously about change without talking about what ties it all together: America’s gun laws.
The United States experiences more death and injury from guns than all other comparable countries combined. It is no coincidence; our country’s weak gun laws are the culprit. While my home of California has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation, those wanting to do harm may easily obtain their weaponry from nearby states who have not stood up to the gun lobby.’
According to Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote)’s Asian American Voter Survey, 77 percent of Asian American voters believe our country needs stronger gun laws. And now, we are in a position to play a key role in strengthening our gun laws.
Over the past few years, Asian Americans have emerged to become the margin of victory in key elections. This is not only true in California but everywhere from Pennsylvania, to Georgia, to Arizona. In 2020, Asian Americans saw a 47 percent increase in voter turnout from 2016 – the highest increase of any racial group! We are determining elections, and our power will only grow.
Consequently, there has been increased talk about how to “win the Asian American vote.” I’ll tell you: engaging with us and making sure our communities feel safe, protected, and secure – that includes implementing stricter, common-sense gun laws.
As an elected official in a majority Asian city, I understand first-hand the importance of public safety. Asian Americans are not a monolith, and we often do not agree on the issues, but I can tell you with full confidence that this is an issue that unites us. And at a time where 85% of Asian American voters list “crime/public safety” as an important issue to them when voting, this is an issue that is not fading away anytime soon.
The City of Monterey Park’s motto is: “Pride in Our Past, Faith in the Future.” We will not let recent tragedy define us, and we have faith we can plot a better path forward – one devoid of gun violence, and one that prioritizes the lives of our family, friends, and neighbors, not firearms. As elected officials, we have the power to make this a reality. But we cannot wait ten years, we cannot wait ten months. We must act today, or be held accountable by a community that refuses to accept this violence any longer.
About Henry Lo: Henry Lo currently serves as a councilmember of Monterey Park representing District 4, and served as Mayor of Monterey Park during the 2023 shooting. Henry is a second generation Californian whose parents immigrated to the United States seeking the American Dream. He grew up as a latchkey kid and was the first in his family to go to college. He has over 20 years of experience in community relations, media communications, local activism, policy advocacy, and political campaigning.
About APIAVote: Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) is a leading national nonpartisan organization that works with partners to mobilize Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in electoral and civic participation. See more information at www.apiavote.org/
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