Spa shooting victims’ relatives, AAPI legislators renew gun control push

Participants at the Georgia Freight Depot wave signs at the beginning of the Asian Justice 1-year anniversary of the spa shootings rally in Atlanta on March 16, 2022.   STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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Participants at the Georgia Freight Depot wave signs at the beginning of the Asian Justice 1-year anniversary of the spa shootings rally in Atlanta on March 16, 2022. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Asian American state legislators and relatives of two of the victims of last year’s metro Atlanta spa shootings called for tighter gun restrictions Friday in the wake of this week’s mass shooting at a Texas elementary school.

“I’m a gun owner and I’m a hunter,” said Michael Webb, the ex-husband of Xiaojie Tan, one of the people killed March 16, 2021, at three local spas. “I support our rights to own a firearm. But I also support common sense gun control and gun safety. The young man who executed my daughter’s mother and seven other innocent people did so within hours of purchasing a gun here in Georgia.”

ExploreAtlanta spa shootings: 1 year later, families rebuild, await justice

Webb and others spoke at a virtual news conference organized by the state Democratic party.

“I’m not a liberal or a Democrat,” Webb said. “I’m just a father, grandfather and victim of gun violence.”

Webb said his 18-year-old son died by suicide in 1999, using a shotgun his grandparents left loaded and unsecured.

State Sen. Michelle Au (D-Johns Creek) and state Rep. Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville) panned state Republicans, especially Gov. Brian Kemp, for enacting a permitless carry law last month.

“Instead of honoring those victims by doing everything possible to try and ensure nothing similar happens again, Brian Kemp and Georgia Republicans have decided to make it even easier for criminals to carry weapons of war in public,” Park said, adding, “They’ve exacerbated the gun epidemic. They’ve been pouring fuel on the fire.”

Senate Bill 319, which Kemp signed last month, eliminates the requirement that Georgians apply for a license and a background check, get fingerprinted and pay a $75 fee to carry a concealed handgun. Background checks are still required to buy guns from stores or dealers.

About 70% of Georgia voters polled earlier this year by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did not believe state residents should be allowed to carry a concealed weapon without a license. More than half of the poll respondents who identified as Republican or conservative were opposed to allowing handguns to be carried without a permit.

Katie Byrd, a Kemp spokeswoman, said in an email that those who could not carry firearms before SB 319 are still prohibited from doing so and the law does not change the locations where guns are banned.

Georgia did not require training to get a license and there is not a waiting period to buy a gun in the state. Lawmakers said Friday they planned next legislative session to reintroduce some gun control measures that have previously failed, proposing requirements for universal background checks, safe storage and a waiting period.

“It’s going to take time and it’s going to take pressure like this to cause them to move, but times are changing,” Au said.

Six of the spa shooting victims were Asian American women and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is seeking a harsher sentence for the shooter under a hate crimes law. Speakers at the news conference tied the massacre to mass shootings this month, both allegedly perpetrated by 18-year-old men: in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 fourth-graders and two teachers were killed; and in Buffalo, where the suspect allegedly targeted Black victims.

ExploreThe victims killed in the March 16, 2021, spa shootings

Robert Peterson, whose mother Yong Ae Yue was killed in the spa shootings, is half Black and half Korean. He said he supports a total ban on assault weapons and more data collection on gun purchases and assaults.

“Kemp has put communities at risk by allowing people to bypass that crucial check and carry deadly weapons out in public,” Peterson said. “Permitless carry is moving Georgia backwards on gun safety.”