HOUSTON - The Asian American community is on edge following the sharp rise in hate crimes in 2020. Many are now arming themselves for protection.
Paul Pham deals with dozens of customers every day at HTX Tactical in Spring Branch.
"Every now and then you’ll see somebody ask about pepper spray or stun guns, but 9 times out of 10, they’re coming in for a gun," Pham, the GM, said.
Since the start of the pandemic, Pham says he’s noticed a spike in gun buyers, many of whom, are Asian-American.
"Especially here in Houston, because of the fact that we are a much freer state, we have been getting a lot more Asian Americans coming in and actually buying a lot more firearms. They’re mostly saying because of the hate, the racism, and everything like that. Another reason being is just because of COVID. They’re scared," Pham said.
"They’re understanding why the 2A community is the way that it is because they want to have that control. Being in control of themselves, protecting their families whenever they need to," Pham continued.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation says there have more than 8.4 million first-time firearm buyers since the pandemic began.
"It actually started when COVID hit. Nobody knew what was going to happen, they thought it was the end of the world. I mean for two months straight, we had a line outside of our doors, before we opened, even after we closed," said Javier Garcia, the co-owner of HTX Tactical.
Recent analysis says hate crimes against Asians surged 150% in 2020 with majority of incidents happening in New York and California, where Pham is originally from.
He’s now encouraging his own family to protect themselves.
"I’ve been telling them to strap up if they can. Unfortunately, in California, you really can’t. So I’ve been telling a lot of them to carry knives on them, any kind of weapon," Pham said.
Although, local law enforcement says there’s been no reported incidents of hate crimes against the AAPI community in Houston, Pham says he and his friends have experienced it first-hand, recalling an incident from the grocery store.
"He was approached by three alpha males who started yelling out to him you ch***! Get out of my country. This isn’t your place, you guys brought COVID here. There’s really nothing else you can do except scream for help or defend yourself," Pham said.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Houston Police Department has already raised patrols and security in Asian neighborhoods, following the deadly shooting in Atlanta last week, where majority of the victims killed were of Asian descent.