In modern America, every issue has become divisive – religion, sexuality, abortion, and our personal favorite – guns. Debates about these important issues should be honest and rational discussions, but instead, they’ve become shouting matches with 10 second TV clips, nonsensical marketing buzz words (“GUNSENSE!”), and bad stereotypes. It’s very disappointing. The mass media itself tends to promote the most extreme and terrible stereotypes of gun owners. Oh, you own guns? You must be a racist, fat, old, uneducated white guy… or a tacticool wannabe who’s played too much Battlefield or CoD… or the bloodthirsty redneck who poaches anything on four legs and yells YEE-HAW, I wish I could meet the people who subscribe to these ridiculous stereotypes of gun owners so I can tell them that the gun owning community is far more different than they could imagine. I wish I could introduce them to my father . . .
My father was raised in a working class household in Oakland, California, the great-grandson of an immigrant railroad worker. No one in his immediate family owned guns. The youngest of 3 sons, he grew up like most city kids in his rough neighborhood, doing everything from playing stickball in the streets, and to scrounging glass Coke bottles to recycle so he could get a few cents to see a movie with his friends. A young hooligan in public grade school, he straightened up in high school and later attended a small college in the Midwest. He became a Christian, met my mother at church, got married, and a few years later, they had me and my little sister. After he took an offer to serve as youth pastor at a large church, we moved to the city of Seattle, in beautiful and green Washington state.
Dad had a demeanor that alternated between smirking humor and pensive seriousness, a combination that served him well, first as a Christian advocate doing prison ministry, to later doing outreach to young people as a youth pastor. He loved books, our house was filled with them, and he loved music, being a self-taught guitar player with a large collection of classical, jazz, gospel, and folk music records. He was a peaceful person, though he wasn’t above spanking either myself or my sister when we got out of line. The meaning of “respect” was taught very early on to both us.
If you were to follow gun owner stereotypes, you might be tempted to believe that my father wasn’t a gun owner. You might even believe that my father, a very spiritual man devoted to the “hippie” work of working with felons and youth, while reading books and playing the guitar, would never touch a gun. And you’d be wrong.
My father was an avid firearms enthusiast. According to family legend, he first became interested in guns through his uncle, who had served with honor in the Army during the Korean War. Being in ROTC in high school, going to school in the Midwest and later Texas only intensified his interest. He became friends in seminary with fellow students who owned guns. He meticulously organized his back issues of Guns & Ammo, and saved targets from his shooting range trips, with hand-written notes about date, ammo and gun used in a file folder. Pistols, rifles, shotguns – he enjoyed shooting them all, and from an early age, he taught my sister and me the 4 safety rules so that we could share in his passion. We looked forward to family trips to the range on his days off from work. His gun safe was well-stocked with his favorites, such as this 357 Magnum Colt Python:
My mother was never into guns. Like any mother, her primary thought was always about protecting her kids, and though she didn’t interfere with my father’s interests, she didn’t particularly encourage us (my sister and I) to love shooting like my father did. It’s only in later years that I would understand that part of her negative reaction to guns was her experiences as a student at Berkeley during the turbulent 60s. Though she was never a part of the protest movement, she had enough bad experiences with police and National Guard units that seeing guns was something that still made her uncomfortable.
Guns however, were more than just a hobby to my father. He would often quote Scripture and point out that he was compelled by faith to not only do everything possible to protect our family, but to protect the people in his congregation at the church. Working as a pastor in an urban church, there was always the threat of crime like robbery – most of the congregants still carried and gave cash for offering. During community collections for programs like feeding the homeless or providing English/citizenship classes for the community, donations would number easily in the thousands, a tempting amount for any criminal.
Our church had open gym at nights on the weekend to provide a safe place for the local kids to socialize and play basketball – sometimes these gym nights attracted rough characters (such as gang members) from the neighborhood. My father always seem to win them over with a “love them like Jesus would” approach, but he didn’t take chances. He would often be the last to leave at night, locking up a church that had been a target of burglary. Cars in the church parking lot would also get broken into too. With his concealed carry license, the only thing at night my father carried with him at work more than his Bible or sermon notebook was his SIG P226.
He didn’t parade around the church with his pistol out like a 2013-style open carry event, but it was an open secret to those that knew him well in the congregation. A few deacons and trustees of the church were also gun enthusiasts; they formed an informal circle of friends that would often go to the range together, or go out hunting. Owning a gun wasn’t an awkward facet of my father’s life; it was as natural as owning a lawnmower or a tire gauge. Contrary to what the mass media says about gun owners, having a gun didn’t turn my father into an evil man – it was in fact his concern for others and his sense of duty that was part of the motivation that made him choose to be a gun owner.
I mentioned before that my mother wasn’t into guns, nor was she always comfortable when my father having a concealed carry license. She did however understand the precautions my father took to protect the safety of our family and his safety when he worked at night. Their relationship had enough built in respect and love that she was able to see past her personal reservations about guns to make a conscious choice to always allow my father to make all the decisions about when and where to carry.
It would later turn out that this was a wise decision – a decision that protected both her and the lives of her children, me and my sister.
It was Mother’s Day, circa 1986, and I was a young kid excited for this thing that I had just learned about called a “buffet”. Normally, on Sundays, my family often ate lunch at the church or in Seattle’s International District, but my mom wanted to have something different – brunch at a popular local restaurant. The Mother’s Day family special was brunch buffet of all the usual breakfast standards – hash browns, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, fruit salad, omelettes, soup, sandwiches, etc. As soon as we entered the restaurant, the smell of food off the griddles was amazing.
Unfortunately, the restaurant’s popularity and the Mother’s Day holiday also meant it was packed with people. After my family was seated by our waitress, she told us that the buffet line had bottlenecked at the omelette table, which had unwisely been put near the front of the line. Her manager had put the word out to all the waitstaff seating people that it was strongly suggested that all new patrons skip past the omelette table, get their other food items first, and come back later if we wanted an omelette. It had been a long Sunday morning and we were all hungry, so my father led our whole family pass the omelette table to get the other food items.
As my family and several other families passed the crowded line by the omelette table, I could hear a murmur pass through some people in the line and caught some people giving my family dirty looks. I was in the middle of getting a pancake and piece of bacon on my plate when a man stomped out of the omelette line yelling loudly,
“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU PEOPLE THINK YOU’RE DOING?”
The man was in his mid-late 40s, tall, heavy build, with large arms that stretched the sleeves of his shirt like shrink wrap around a ham hock. He was directly addressing my father, pointing an accusing finger at him. He towered at least a foot or more over my father, who was only about 5’7. The man’s grey eyes had an icy glare that was oddly framed by his messy white and brown hair. His breath stunk of alcohol, and there was an emphasis on “YOU PEOPLE” that I didn’t understand then as a kid, but I understand (unfortunately) now as an adult.
My father tried to calmly explain that our waitress had suggested that we skip the omelette table, and that our family was just following her suggestion. Some other families who had skipped ahead as well nodded their heads in agreement, but none of them spoke up or chimed in. Maybe they were too stunned or scared of this angry man, who seemed to grow even more upset as my father talked. He cut off my father mid-sentence, hissing,
And then seething, he turned and walked back to the omelette table.
I knew what cussing was (thanks public school), but I had never heard before the other word the angry man had said. But judging from my mother’s sad expression and the way my father’s face tightened, I knew it couldn’t be good. My parents attempted to hurry my sister and I through the rest of buffet line, when I saw the angry man stomping toward my family again.
In an instant, I felt my father push me back and to the side as he moved to face the angry man, placing his body directly between the angry man, and the rest of the family. As the angry man stomped toward us, my father changed the way he was holding the tray with the plates of food from a two hand grip, to holding it only with his left hand, as his right hand slowing floated down toward his right hip, his suit jacket still immaculately clean and pressed from Sunday morning service. My Dad’s face looked calm and determined, his eyes unblinking behind his glasses. When the angry man was just about 3-4 feet away from my father, he yelled loudly,
“YOU MOTHERF*CKERS THINK YOU’RE BETTER THAN US? YOU THINK YOU OWN THIS COUNTRY?”
The tension in the room made it feel like time had stopped. I was scared, and confused. Once again, as a kid, I had no idea why this man was angry. It’s only in hindsight that I as an adult, I can speculate about what might have set this guy off – everything from 1980s Japan-US trade tensions, a veteran suffering from PTSD, or just being a drunk jerk. It didn’t matter because he obviously singling out our family, the only Asian-looking family in the whole restaurant. It didn’t matter that our family was 100% American (both my parents were born and raised in the US), because he clearly already perceived us to be the enemy, an unwelcome presence. He was acting physically aggressive with my family and my father, a gun owner, was the only one able to protect us from this potential threat. My father tried to once again reason with the angry man, and he gently repeated again what the waitress had told us. The angry man, his rage boiling over, interrupted my father by saying,
“F*CK YOU. WHAT SHE TOLD YOU WAS BULLSH*T!”
With spit flying out of his mouth with that last word, the angry man was gesturing wildly with his hands and with a clumsy sideways slap, he knocked the tray my father was holding in his left hand. Dad immediately dropped the tray and stepped back, still shielding us. His left hand was now held out straight in front of him, palm out, while his open right hand never left the spot he held it at, hovering discreetly over by his right side. Hash browns, pancakes, and bacon went spilling across the floor. People around us gasped.
Now, the mass media would love to fool you into thinking that the next thing that happened is that my father, another “reckless” gun owner, draws his SIG from a concealed right holster. That my father wants revenge against this angry man for yelling racist slurs at him and his family (on Mother’s Day, of all days). The mass media would say that my father is going to escalate a verbal, aggressive argument into a deadly shoot-out in a crowded restaurant. That my father is going to spray a hail of fifteen plus 9mm bullets at this angry man because no one can be trusted with a tool as deadly as a gun. But nothing like this happened. My father, thankfully, did not live up the mass media stereotype of who a gun owner is, or what a gun owner does.
No sooner had the plates clattered to the floor when 2 huge line cooks, come running out of the kitchen behind a man whom I could only guess was the manager. These guys were big and burly enough to play the offensive line of any football team in the NFL. The crowd, who had up until now remained mute, now all pointed out the angry man as the aggressor and source of all the angry shouting. Cowed by the presence of the cooks and the stares of the crowd, the angry man shrinks, as he and his family are firmly escorted out of the restaurant by manager and the cooks. My mother, now in tears, leans again my father as he wraps his left arm around her, and walks our family back to our table. My little sister starts crying because my mother is crying. I eat awkwardly and half-heartedly, while my father sips a cup of coffee quietly, still scanning the restaurant to see if the angry man comes back. The manager later comes by with our waitress to apologize and comps our whole meal. We don’t come back to the restaurant until years later.
I didn’t understand at the time how my father could be so calm. It’s only now that I understand that part of it was his own self-discipline; the other part was despite the physical advantage in size that the angry man had, my father probably carried with him the tool that would equalize the odds and protect his family – his SIG. He had practiced and trained, and he was ready. But he never drew it. He was ready to do anything to defend us, but he never had to fire a shot, and that’s a good thing – guns have saved countless lives without ever a shot being fire.
Whenever the topic of gun owner stereotypes comes up, I think about that day. My father has since passed away, and unfortunately, I never did get to ask him in detail about what was he thinking on that day. Would he have really drawn his gun and shot the angry man if he had attacked? How did my father manage the courage and self-control to keep trying to talk to that angry man, rather than doing what the mass media claims all gun owners do – shooting recklessly at the first possible moment.
I think of the time of the first time I went hunting with my father and how he once mercifully killed a wounded, suffering pheasant the bird dog had mauled with a quick grab and twist of his hands – would he have been as quick if the angry man tried to hurt me or my mother or my sister?
My father’s love for us was so strong, I don’t doubt it for a second.
How I often wish my father were still alive today to speak out against the lies that are regurgitated about gun owners. How I wish he could remind people that 99.9% of the people in America who own guns don’t fit into neat boxes like “crazed maniac” or “cop” or “OFWG.” The vast majority of gun owners are good, decent women and men who come from every race and ethnicity, every job and background, and with every possible difference common and uncommon in America today.
But in a way, my father’s story doesn’t end there.
Fast-forward a few decades, and now I myself am a married father of 2 wonderful children, and one of those odd Christians who has good friends of all beliefs – yes, even atheist and Muslim. I’m highly educated, with 2 bachelor degrees from a big state college, a master’s degree, and I am national board-certified in my chosen profession. I’m an elementary school teacher who works in public education who watched in horror at the events of Sandy Hook while simultaneously shaking my fist at the stupidity of “GUN FREE ZONE” signs that don’t allow teachers to choose how to best protect their beloved students, let alone themselves. I cringe at the coverage of open carry dudes at Starbucks and Chipotle, sipping coffee and munching burritos with rifles in hand, locked and loaded with magazines. I take friends out to the range, especially if they’ve never been before, or they happen to come visit from places like Chicago.
Mostly, I try to share what my father so wisely shared with me.
I love food trucks, Youtube videos, books, movies, indie music, and board games – though not necessarily in that order. I’m a 4th generation American of Chinese descent who has had the privilege of traveling and living abroad, yet still returned home to Seattle with the strange hope that life here in America is still better than anywhere. I refuse to vote for anyone named Clinton or Bush, just as I refuse to vote blindly for a person just because of the R or D by their name – where do they stand on the issues of human rights and liberty, especially the Second Amendment right of people to defend themselves with firearms if they so choose?
I’m just one person, but I’m a part of a growing generation of people that embraces guns for a variety of reasons beyond just the natural right to self-defense. I’m a part of a generation that believes owning and using firearms is representative of universal values such as self-reliance and personal liberty. Values that we want to pass on to our own children through owning and learning to respect guns. And we’re outraged at the BS pushed on us by a mass media that misleads, misinforms, and misinterprets who gun owners are or what they’re really about.
But most of all, I’m a just a regular guy who owns guns, who doesn’t fit the media’s stereotypes of who a gun owner is, or what a gun owner does. Just like my father before me.