From the staff of RECOIL Magazine:
Anyone who has followed us for any length of time knows that we are no stranger to controversy. However, even we were taken aback by some of the reactions to our upcoming cover draft which we recently posted on social media. Chris Cheng has been a staple in the shooting community for a decade and has graced the pages of RECOIL many times before. Most recently he has been an advocate for our gun rights in testimony to the US Senate and has founded a new Asian-American firearms organization in the midst of increasing anti-Asian street violence. Yes, he’s also married to a man.
If you're as strong of a defender of individual liberty as Chris Cheng, we'll put you on the cover, and let you pick your own wardrobe too.
We maintain that the Second Amendment is for all Americans. Always have, always will. It’s up to us as individuals to bring that message to as many people as possible, and challenge the media-driven stereotype of firearm owners. We've seen record numbers of our fellow citizens embrace their right to bear arms this past 14 months, and new gun owners have shown they don't fit preconceived ideas of what they ‘should' look like. Gun rights are for everyone, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, or color of their skin.
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by Conrad Bui and Steven Kuo
Chris Cheng is about as unique as they come — though the simple superlative “unique” doesn’t really cut it. He’s a white-collar techie with successful careers at some of the biggest and most recognizable tech companies in the world. He’s a self-taught gun enthusiast who took the prize in season 4 of History Channel’s Top Shot. He’s a musician who sings for the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. He’s highly educated, with a bachelor’s degree from UCLA and a masters from Middlebury Institute of International Studies. He also co-founded a non-profit to help build homes for those less fortunate and authored a book. Did we mention “unique” doesn’t cut it?
There’s a popular meme that goes something like this: “No matter how good you are at something, there’s always an Asian who does it better.” It’s good for a chuckle, but in all seriousness, how can one person be so good at so many different things?
Besides being whip-smart, Cheng is focused, determined, disciplined, and passionate. He has that uncommon ability to combine a rigorous mindset with flexibility and creativity. His five-year plans for himself have their own five-year plans, constantly expanding and evolving. As he proved with his Top Shot win, he’s an extremely fast learner and, once he puts his mind to something, is driven to be the best he can possibly be.
RECOIL visited with Cheng at a new property in Northern California that he recently stumbled upon and bought. Like him, it’s quite unique, with a home and acreage in a beautiful redwood forest, yet still accessible to Amazon deliveries and Uber Eats. Barely a few months had gone by before Cheng had already watched a bunch of YouTube videos, acquired heavy machinery from Caterpillar, and was working the land. Go big or go home.
Since Top Shot, Cheng’s involvement in the shooting community expanded beyond competition and fully into gun-rights advocacy. As an Asian man who’s also gay, he’s breaking down barriers and stereotypes for both Asians and the LGBTQ community when it comes to firearms enthusiasts and Second Amendment supporters.
We talked with him after he testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to fight for our 2A rights. Listen in as Cheng shares with us what transpired at our nation’s capital. In this interview, he also reveals the secrets on how he won the title of Top Shot (fundamentals anyone?), his opinion on violence against Asians, and possibly a foray into politics.
RECOIL: How did you get involved in firearms?
Chris Cheng: My father taught me how to shoot when I was 6 years old. But it wasn’t something we did very often. At most, we shot once every three to four years. We’d go to an indoor range called On Target in Laguna Niguel, rent a lane for an hour or two, punch some holes in paper, and then the guns went back in the safe. My dad was introduced to firearms through Officer Candidate School when he served in the U.S. Navy. He flew P-3 Orions during Vietnam, so while firearms were not a huge part of his service, his positive introduction to firearms occurred due to his military service. He taught me the basics of firearms safety and handling, and I have incredibly positive memories of spending time with him at the range.
You won season four of History Channel’s Top Shot; how did you get on the show?
CC: Having gone to college in LA and spending lots of time around the entertainment industry, I approached the auditions realizing that the show wasn’t just looking for good shooters. They were looking for that skillset, plus personalities who were relatable and interesting for TV. One thing I remember from the week-long audition was that the best shooter from the marksmanship component of the audition did not get cast because this person could barely utter complete sentences on camera.
My audition package boiled down to a focused, simplified description of who I am: a self-taught amateur who is a gay, Asian, white-collar techie.
Apparently, your strategy worked. Before the show, what was your firearms experience and training like?
CC: Top Shot inspired me to purchase my first AR-15 after seeing it in Season 1. I simply had no idea that civilians could even own one. I thought they were reserved for law enforcement and the military. I’m thankful for the education I received through watching Americans from all walks of life use firearms and weaponry in a safe, entertaining manner. I miss Top Shot, and I hope it, or a show like it, makes its way back onto TV.
A few years before I auditioned for my season of Top Shot, I was going to my home range about one weekend a month, still plinking static plates and punching holes in boring paper. However, one Sunday I stumbled upon a part of the range where I saw people in civilian clothing wearing holstered pistols, running around shooting moving targets. I assumed these were undercover cops practicing for work. I asked one of the shooters what I was seeing, and he told me it was an IDPA match. I asked if a random person like me could do it, and the shooter said, “Sure! Just take a safe holstering course.” And that’s how I started doing some local competitions.
I was shooting one to two matches a month and honestly not doing great, placing in the bottom 20 to 25-percent. Thankfully, it was a ton of fun and I liked the people — who were a key draw to keeping me coming back.
What was your secret?
CC: My secret was to zero in on the core fundamentals of marksmanship. Sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, breathing control, and follow through. The fundamentals never change, so it didn’t matter what kind of weapon was put in my hands as long as I always fell back on the fundamentals.
On one level, seeing as I was doing so poorly in my local IDPA, USPSA, and three-gun matches I had no business even applying for Top Shot. But the thing to remember is that Top Shot was a completely different beast. The key thing to know is that Top Shot always had the competitors shooting a different weapon in every single challenge. And it’s never with your personal guns, so even if I’m proficient with a Glock 34 and I happen to get lucky that a G34 is in a Top Shot challenge, it’ll likely feel very different from my personal G34. So knowing that, I had to be very agnostic and almost dispassionate about the type of weapons presented to me. That was incredibly difficult when I was shooting an M1919 machine gun, an M32A1 grenade launcher, and the FN 5.7, which are amazing weapons.
They all share a commonality around the fundamentals of marksmanship.
How has your training changed since?
CC: It drastically changed, but in ways that you might not expect. During Top Shot auditions I was training 20 to 25 hours a week for five months. Training was a part-time job since I knew how far behind the curve I was.
After the show, I was traveling so much for shooting competitions, trying my hand at making YouTube gun videos, and trying to figure out how to make a living that I didn’t train too much. As many competitors have experienced, sometimes the match is your practice.
You testified before the U.S. Senate in March. Please tell us how you got involved and what happened.
CC: I testified in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to speak against a number of the gun control measures currently facing Congress. The backdrop was with the 149% rise of anti-Asian-American attacks over the past year, there are Asian-Americans flocking to gun stores in droves for personal protection. Some of the gun control measures would increase the time and difficulty for responsible citizens to acquire firearms.
A core part of my testimony was that gun control has a history of discrimination. Our black brothers and sisters have arguably experienced the greatest negative impact of it, but Asian-Americans have not escaped it either. When President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 during World War II and sent 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans to internment camps, he not only stripped these Asian-Americans of their 2nd Amendment rights, but all of their Constitutional rights.
And what’s worse than racist gun control laws? Gun control laws which negatively impact every single responsible American, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
The other key message I sent is that if we want to solve gun violence then we need to focus on the root causes of violence. If we simply were to remove guns, we’d still be left with violence perpetrated by other means. I think there’s agreement on all sides that if we treat the mentally ill, build strong communities and family structures, and train and educate people so they can get good jobs to live stable productive lives, then we’d see a reduction in violence.
How did you feel about the results of your testimony?
CC: I’m very satisfied with the results of my testimony because I have seen how it has changed the national dialogue and given our country another important perspective on the danger and imbalance of gun control laws.
There has been a lot of press about violence against Asians. Do you think this is something that has been happening before all the media exposure, or was it a recent thing and why?
CC: It’s a little bit of both. Racist attacks against Asians have been a thing for decades. Many Asian-Americans aren’t the type to speak up and protest or rally for or against anything. So the issue has mostly remained buried. But the pandemic accelerated these attacks starting in March 2020. It wasn’t until around January 2021 that the mainstream media picked up on the increase in attacks.
There’s been a 149% increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans, and many of them are happening in my hometown of San Francisco. The worst of the worst is attacks against the elderly. Who in their right mind goes around assaulting old people, inflicting significant injuries and death? It’s like the bottom of the barrel of our society has taken over. San Francisco’s District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, is failing at his job and at one point seemed to defend a criminal who killed an 84-year-old Thai American by violently shoving him onto the sidewalk. Across the Bay, the Oakland police chief is actively encouraging citizens to not defend themselves, and to simply be “good witnesses.” What in the hell is going on when the criminals get to run around unabated, and responsible citizens don’t get protection and can’t get justice? It’s starting to feel like Gotham City…
We hear you. We really could use a Batman or two right now. Why do you think violence with Asians is at an all-time high right now?
CC: There are a few things that come to mind. Former President Trump’s constant xenophobic race-baiting and use of the phrases “China virus” and “kung flu” have greatly contributed to the hate against Asian-Americans. I know some people think that there’s nothing wrong with either phrase where the first one is factual and the second one is funny.
Sure, the virus originated from China, but the way the former President uses the phrase, it has never been neutral nor positive. With the second phrase, things can be funny until someone gets hurt or killed, which is exactly where we are. In many of these hate crimes, the criminals are often saying things like “go back to China” or “go back to where you came from.” Asian-Americans such as me are from here, the United States. I was born in California. This is my home, so if you tell me to go back to where I came from, that’s going to be Mission Viejo, California.
I have heard so much damn push back from people defending the use of racist phrases. If you are a decent person, if anything you say or do could even remotely result in someone getting attacked or injured, wouldn’t you just stop saying or doing whatever could possibly cause harm?
How have you responded to this increase in violence against the Asian American community?
CC: I was introduced to a group called the Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association (www.apagoa.org), which I believe is the first national APA/AAPI gun owners group that is taking a big-tent approach to train and educate Asian American gun owners. I’ve joined as an official advisor to APAGOA, and the group has established three focus pillars: safety, education, and community. It is an apolitical organization that welcomes gun owners of all backgrounds from all races, ethnicities, genders, religions, sexual orientations, etc.
APAGOA aspires to provide useful information for both new gun owners and current gun owners alike. For new gun owners, APAGOA wants to tackle some of the unique challenges facing the APA community, such as language barriers around learning how to safely shoot, how to purchase a gun, [handle all the paperwork, and deal with gun shops, ranges, and clubs].
For current gun owners, APAGOA hopes to be a place where members find community and support to help them improve their shooting skills and find whatever information and training they may need. I’m incredibly excited to see APAGOA grow and thrive to fill a much needed void in the firearms community.
What do you think Asians (or really, anybody) should do to protect themselves during these stressful times?
CC: I think the pandemic has really shined the light on mental health and how important it is for each of us to take care of ourselves first. If we aren’t in a good place then how can we effectively support our families, friends and communities?
Personal therapy is often a taboo subject, particularly amongst the Asian-American population. I used to think that therapy was for the weak and you just had to tough it out through whatever challenges come your way. Of course, that’s still true to some extent, but we all have our low points, and for me the racist attacks against Asian-Americans have been a lot to handle.
My social media feeds, conversations at my day job, and family chats were dominated by the violence for almost two months straight. Seeing, analyzing, and responding to violence for this long duration took a personal toll on me. Thankfully, my employer provides free personal therapy. It was helpful to have a neutral third-party guide me through how to process how I was feeling and make sense of the senseless violence.
Any further thoughts on personal protection?
CC: I think the answer to this question has to start with the individual asking him/herself “where do I spend the most time?” Depending on those answers, you can then analyze and understand what your perceived and real risks are along with what specific types of personal protection options might make the most sense.
For example, if you spend a good chunk of your time in your car and then walk from a parking lot to an office building on a city street, then you’ll want to consider how to protect yourself from the time you leave your front door to the walk to your car. From there, what kind of neighborhoods are you driving through? Maybe it makes sense to take a different route if it is safer, at the tradeoff of a longer commute. Then when you arrive at the parking lot, what kind of security personnel (if any) exist there? Is it well lit? How far do you have to walk from the lot to your office?
Does your office building require badged entry or is there a doorman, security guard, or any other type of physical and visible security? If a firearm is part of your personal security plan, is it legal for you to have it on your person, in your car, driving through each township, city or jurisdiction? And then what about your workplace — are you allowed to either conceal carry and/or have a firearm in a lockbox at your desk?
Big picture, sometimes firearms aren’t the optimal solution for protection, based on a variety of factors. Batons, baseball bats, knives, pepper spray, personal alarms, security systems, and cameras are just some of the many other items that can help keep one safe.
Last but not least, we need to pay attention to our surroundings. Don’t bury your face in your phone while walking around in public. If you see something suspicious, walk in the other direction or remove yourself as quickly as possible. If you see someone else involved in a threat, call out to alert them. We have to look out not just for ourselves, but for everyone in our communities as well.
Did you face any racism or bigotry growing up in the U.S.?
CC: Yes, but thankfully it never rose to the point where I felt like it held me back or felt threatened for my life. The racism and bigotry I’ve experienced has been relatively mild, but perhaps it’s been that way due to my mentality to not let it drag me down. I never want to be a victim. But I absolutely need to acknowledge that my experience with racism is not representative of every Asian-American’s experience.
Many Asian-Americans have been killed and severely injured due to racist attacks. One of the most notable was back in 1982; a Chinese-American named Vincent Chin was killed by two white automotive workers. They were recently laid off and blamed Chin for the success of Japan’s auto industry, even though Chin was of Chinese descent.
Asians are often seen as a singular, monolithic ethnicity. I want to encourage readers to go learn, travel, and meet Asians of all backgrounds, eat the food, read the history, and better understand that Asian-American culture is indeed a huge melting pot within this ginormous melting pot that is America.
How about the firearms community in particular?
CC: Aside from random racist internet trolls (who don’t really count), I haven’t experienced any meaningful racism in the firearms community. There’s this negative stereotype that gun owners are all white, racist, middle-aged white guys. That’s just simply not true, and anyone who spends a little bit of time with actual gun owners around the country will quickly see that it’s one of the most diverse and accepting communities our country has to offer.
There has been talk about politics in your future. Is this true and if so, what are your plans?
CC: When I was in high school, I started to get inbound comments that I should run for office when I became of age. I plan on running for some sort of office when the timing is right for my family. My husband and I have been incredibly focused on our careers, and we are now moving into the next chapter of our lives having purchased property in a redwood forest and are still contemplating having children.
Serving my country in political office is one of my life goals. I want to do some great things for America and expand the freedoms we have in our country.
As you might be able to guess, I really like to win, and so there’s a good chance you’ll see me in office one of these days.
Occupation: IT guy for a Silicon Valley tech company
Base of Operations: San Francisco, California
Hobbies: Eating, traveling, music, guns, moving dirt from one place to another, watching movies, politics, policy, bourbon
Top 5 Recommended Reading List:
-Here We Are by Aarti Shahani
-Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
-Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
-The Unbanking of America by Lisa Servon
-Double Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann
Pets: Dogs, Walnut and Brownie (they are both Bernedoodles)
Favorite Film: The Kingdom
Favorite Quote: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
Favorite Firearm: Glock 19, for its versatility and reliability
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