CAPITAL REGION — Some members of the Chinese community are seeking to arm themselves as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread throughout the Capital Region, citing a loss of faith in government and hate-fueled rhetoric.
A man who identified himself only as “Michael” paced back and forth at Upstate Guns and Ammo on State Street in Schenectady on Tuesday.
“The government is supposed to protect us, but I feel like I need to protect my family,” he said, clutching a scrap of paper with the phases “Remington” and “Mossburg” scrawled on it, referring to firearms manufacturers.
Also written: “12 gauge”, “20 gauge” and “buckshot slug.”
Michael, a naturalized U.S. citizen, said he emigrated from China and works at a restaurant in Albany.
“I don’t want a gun, but I’m afraid for my family,” he said.
As he paced back and forth, four young adults conversing in Mandarin were turned away by the clerk.
Store owner Craig Serafini confirmed an uptick in Asian patrons to his business.
“They’re legitimately afraid people are going to blame them for what’s going on,” Serafini said. “It’s terrible anyone has to feel that way.”
The shoppers visited Capital Region firearm retailers on Tuesday just as #ChineseVirus became a worldwide trending topic after President Donald Trump pledged to support U.S. industries “affected by the Chinese Virus.”
The virus first emerged from the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December, and the president and Republican lawmakers have defended the term's use as accurate.
But Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield on Tuesday said it was wrong to refer to the potentially lethal virus as a "Chinese coronavirus," citing its global spread, the Hill reported.
Critics contend the phrase has racist connotations.
“Really, it’s just an excuse to spew hate,” said Rachel Grinspan, director of community affairs for the Anti-Defamation League’s New York-New Jersey regional office.
Three customers were spotted speaking Mandarin at American Shooter Supply on Central Avenue, but a reporter left before he could speak with them because staff said the retailer has a “no press” policy.
And at New York Shooter Display on Central Avenue, four Mandarin-speakers milled about looking at ammunition as one of them filled out a background check.
The applicant simply said “bandits” when asked why he wanted to arm himself.
Asked if he was afraid, he said, “not really.”
All four worked in the restaurant industry, said the man, who requested anonymity.
They also cited arrests made on Monday of two people accused of hate crime attacks in New York City.
After filling out the application, the group left for another gun shop.
Foreign-born residents can legally purchase firearms if they have permanent legal status and pass a background check.
The Anti-Defamation League has noted an increase in backlash against Asians as the coronavirus pandemic mounts, citing an uptick in verbal slurs and physical assaults.
“[Offenders] are making it their fault that there’s a virus here, which is completely unacceptable,” Grinspan said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has condemned the rash of incidents.
"To be clear, there is zero evidence that people of Asian descent bear any additional responsibility for the transmission of the coronavirus," Cuomo said after a woman of Korean descent was punched in the face in New York City earlier this month, CBS News reported.
The ADL stopped short in connecting an increase in discriminatory episodes to the president's rhetoric.
“Language has meaning,” Grinspan said. “People need to take their words very seriously. We always want to make sure individuals who are in power are thoughtful about their words and are held to account each time they speak.”
The Chinese Community Center in Latham didn’t respond to previous requests for comment asking about coronavirus-related discrimination in the Capital Region.
Steve Borst, co-owner of Target Sports, Inc. in Glenville, said he hasn’t seen an increase in Asian customers.
But a group of three to five people did come in to request firearms training, he said, “which is good to see.”