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Georgia lawmaker, activists discuss 'fear factor in the Asian community' following California mass shooting

Groups are providing resources across the country, while one lawmaker is working to spark change in the Peach State.

ATLANTA — A mass shooting in a predominantly Asian community in California is now stoking fear in metro Atlanta's communities that share a similar culture. Some people are meeting this fear with immediate action.

Police said a man opened fire during what was supposed to be a celebration of the Lunar New Year in Monterey Park, Calif. Eleven people were killed and another 10 were hurt this weekend.

"It was (a) very sobering (message) to receive on a morning that we were supposed to be celebrating," Phi Nguyen said. 

Nguyen was visiting her parents in Augusta, Ga. for the holiday when she heard the news break. She said the pain was reminiscent of the March 2021 spa shootings in metro Atlanta where eight people were killed, including six women of Asian descent.

"I think any act of mass violence is devastating for communities who are impacted. And I think it can, of course, create additional trauma when it happens during a time that's otherwise supposed to be joyous and forward-looking," Nguyen said.

She, among other Asian American and Pacific Islander activists, said this time they know how to respond, providing support and resources in the wake of tragedy.

"While our community here in Atlanta is grieving, we are doing what we can to reach out to the local communities and in California to try to help them and center their needs and offer resources to them, which is what our communities from across the country did when our local community was in crisis following the shooting," Nguyen said.

James Lee is a special ambassador for the Asian American Resource Center in Duluth, Ga. and echoed Nguyen, saying ultimately it's a community effort.

"The fear factor in the Asian community -- we've been talking about this for months and for years," James Lee said. 

AARC works to provide culturally competent support services for the AAPI community. Lee said at the AARC this could look like workshops where people can learn about each other's history to create community understanding and translate resources into various languages to help people get jobs or uplift their small businesses.

In the wake of a mass shooting, the support looks different.

"This will reverberate the message of hate as being received," he said. "The message of peace can be sent out to everybody again."

Though it has not been confirmed the Monterey shooting was racially motivated, the tragedy happening within an Asian neighborhood still strikes a cord. Both Lee and Nguyen said though the shooting may not be considered an act of Asian hate, there's no doubt there was violence.      

"Our communities experience a lot of different forms of violence, and none of them are OK," Nguyen explained.

Rattling off gender-based violence, racially motivated attacks, public elderly abuse, Nguyen said the community continues to see an unprecedented wave of brutality.

"It's coming at a time where our communities are already traumatized by these highly visible acts of violence," she said. "But I think at the end of the day, our communities deserve to be free from all forms of violence."

That's why one lawmaker is reintroducing three bills to help curb this fear.

3 ways this lawmaker thinks Georgia can protect its AAPI community

Rep. Dr. Michelle Au is reintroducing three proposals this legislative session in hopes that this time Georgia can strengthen gun laws and keep more families safe.

"My district is also heavily Asian-American Pacific Islander," she explained. "One of the things I heard consistently from my community - and this is from people of both parts because this is a concern for everyone - is this issue of public safety."

Au represents Georgia's District 50, which includes Johns Creek and communities just outside of Duluth and Alpharetta. Au previously served in Georgia's State Senate and as a medical professional with a background in public health policy, she said she's taking a multifaceted approach to the legislation.

Waiting period proposal

Following the metro Atlanta area spa shootings in 2021, Au learned the gunman purchased his firearm that same day. That's why she's revisiting the idea of a waiting period for firearm purchases.

"As noted back in March of 2021, that gunman had bought that gun that same morning and by that evening had used it to murder eight people," she said. "This session has to do with building in a cooling off period, which has been demonstrated to build in some time to defuse these for of crimes of impulse or passion."

She said this can also decrease one of the largest categories of gun-related deaths: suicide.

Though it's not as widely talked about, Au said suicide is the majority type of gun violence recorded. 

"Many people in both parties do like to bring mental health in as part of the conversation and I think that's absolutely fair," she said. "I don't think that saying that our mental health system is going to be the sole solution to gun violence in this county, I think it does have to be part of the conversation." 

She believes this proposal can address the mental health topic that often comes up when discussing new firearm regulation legislation.

Covering private gun sales with background checks

The lawmaker said it's also important to tie up loopholes, which include universal background checks and extending background checks to cover private gun sales and transfers.

Safe storage of firearms to protect minors

"The third bill has to do with delaying the top cause of death in children and adolescents," she said, noting that firearms are killing children and it's become a public health crisis.

In the wake of youth getting ahold of firearms, Au is also proposing a safe storage bill. She said children dying by firearms is preventable and often starts at home. By working to keep guns out of young hands, Georgia can help preserve young lives.

Au said these bills are parallel to other public health bills proposed to curb gun violence. 

"We cannot just say, 'oh, that's too bad,' 'what a statistic,' and just move on," she said. "It is our obligation as leaders to act on this information and suggest real, real concrete solutions to address this more than just thoughts and prayers."

Her proposals died in the public safety committee the first time around. Her hope is that they become law by the end of the session.

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