We deserve to protect ourselves too with Tom Nguyen
In this episode of You Did That!, I welcome Tom Nguyen, Founder, Instructor, and Range Safety Officer at L.A. Progressive Shooters. He founded the Los Angeles gun club in 2020 with the goal of creating a non-intimidating and inclusive community, focused on safety and education, for people new to firearms.
Main Topics Discussed:
- Why vulnerable and marginalized communities should consider gun ownership
- How Tom created a safe space for the BiPoc and Queer communities in a largley cis-male-dominated world
- The vital relationship between safety and mental health
- Why Tom received backlash from the Asian gun community, and his response to them
- Why it is important to be open-minded and receptive to different perspectives to experience personal and professional growth
Why did you find L.A. Progressive Shooters?
Tom: I like to joke that it was an accident, since I found it right around the time of the pandemic and a lot of civil unrest in 2020. I’ve never seen so many people in my communities—the BiPoc and Queer communities—who never cared for guns in their lives before to suddenly consider owning them. In these communities, we don’t have a lot of positive role models when it comes to gun owners, so my mission is to bring more people into this world and change those stereotypes.
What’s your approach as a firearms instructor?
Tom: I like to describe myself as “the most un-gun gun instructor”. I don’t answer for the gun industry. I answer to my community. I just want people to be safe and responsible when making this life-changing decision. If at the end of training, someone says that they’re still not ready to own a gun, then I say, “Great, at least you now know what you’re turning away from.”
When did L.A. Progressive Shooters officially start in your mind?
Tom: In the summer of 2020. I joined a lot of gun clubs but found that they were not as tolerant nor as inclusive as I wanted them to be. They were spaces that were cis-male dominated and could be very homophobic and transphobic. I knew there had to be a place where people could ask questions and not be judged automatically. I created the L.A. Progressive Shooters page on Facebook. I used the word “progressive” because I want to wear this on my sleeve unapologetically to let people know that we’re not marketing to everyone. We know exactly who we want in our community. This is a safe space for everyone that does not feel safe in traditional spaces. We’re here for everyone else.
When you had your first range day with 15-20 strangers showing up who had never handled firearms, what was going through your mind?
Tom: What was going through my mind was the huge burden of responsibility. “What exactly have I done here?” But people responded. People were hungry for this. I knew it was real when I met this Mexican-American couple who drove two hours just to get to this meetup, because they never felt comfortable in other gun communities. Another person, a Cambodian-American, witnessed his father shoot a gun to ward off two guys who broke into his house as a child and dragged his mom by her hair across the floor. He wanted nothing to do with guns after that because he was traumatized. But because he was now an adult, and seeing all the civil unrest around him, he decided to come and give it a try. Stories like this assure me that I’m doing the right thing. I’m trying to take up space in what is often a very unwelcoming place on behalf of who? The most marginalized and most vulnerable folks who don’t have many other choices. Many students in my classes are domestic violence survivors. They need to know that their personal safety is their own responsibility. No one else is coming to their rescue in that moment of need. I also want people to enjoy shooting guns. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a stigma that I want to get rid of.
What challenges and pushbacks did you face when starting your organization?
Tom: There is definitely a lot of gatekeeping in this world, as you can imagine. I’m also an instructor that’s only been certified for a year-and-a-half. Compared to military and law enforcement professionals who have been teaching for decades, who am I? Surprisingly, I got a lot of trolling from the Asian gun community, and I’m Asian. The Asian gun community is a reflection of the greater gun community, who are mostly conservative. They like to glamorize the rooftop Koreans. I respect that because it’s a part of the Asian-American experience; however, they glamorize it and in the process continue the anti-Black narrative in the Asian community. I’m calling them out for that as an Asian gun instructor. I want them to see it as white supremacy pitting these two communities against each other. Because I make it well-known that I had a lot of mental health challenges, they used it against me, too. People have been told not to take lessons from me because I’m mentally unwell. But I believe that being open about mental health is key to empowering people in this community. I have to be absolutely unapologetic about who I am.
Did you think that this would be where your professional life would go? What advice would you have given yourself when you became a firearms instructor?
Tom: That I would become a firearms instructor in my 50s when I hadn’t touched a firearm for 15 years? Not really. And because I was coming into an unfriendly space, I already had my defenses up, even against people who were really trying to give me honest advice. So I would tell myself two years ago to differentiate between those who were actually trying to attack me and those who were really trying to help. It took growth on my end to start to understand those good intentions. It made me not just a better instructor, but also a better person to listen to so many different perspectives. I even went back to those I disregarded and apologized for not listening to them, and that strengthened many relationships. All of this has been totally unforeseen and I could not have asked for better blessings.
What would your younger self think if they saw you now?
Tom: They would be happy for all the wrong reasons because I was a trigger-happy juvenile. I’ve matured so much since then in ways that my younger self could not appreciate.
Learn more about L.A. Progressive Shooters:
Visit their website: www.laprogressiveshooters.com
Follow them on Instagram: www.instagram.com/la.progressive.shooters