By: Libby Hobbs
Mike Webb worries his daughters will be next. Two years after his former wife, Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, died at the Atlanta Spa Shootings on March 16, 2021, fear for the AAPI community and his family lives on.
“I gotta tell you, I worry about both my daughters,” Webb said. “Every time I hear about an Asian person being the target of violence just because they’re Asian, I worry a great deal.”
Governor Brian Kemp signed an open carry bill into law a little over a year after the shootings. This bill allows people to openly carry a handgun in public without acquiring a permit from the state. It went into effect in January 2023, three months before the two-year anniversary.
Additionally, the prominent music festival hosted in Atlanta, Music Midtown, was canceled in 2022 due to Georgia laws that made it difficult to ban guns on the site.
“It’s not just children in schools, it's people that go to concerts, it's people [that are] going to work, it’s people [that are] going to the grocery store to buy food for their families — we're all finding ourselves as victims, or potential victims to gun violence,” Robert Peterson, son of victim Yong Ae Yue, said.
Peterson has a gun license and Webb has a concealed carry permit, but they still advocate for common sense laws and universal background checks. The lack of progression in such legislation over the past two years was “appalling” to Webb and “disheartening” to Peterson.
“We definitely have seen [our gun laws], seen Georgia in particular, go backwards … I’m not very hopeful,” Peterson said.
Both believe this discussion extends beyond just gun legislation, however, and that mental health also belongs at the conversation table. Suicides accounted for more than half of U.S. gun deaths in 2020, reported PEW Research. They are cautious to blame mental health for gun violence, though, saying guns are the issue and have been for a long time.
Peterson says he knew “we were out of luck” when the country did not come together and pass gun reform legislation after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. He remembers Columbine High School massacre in his late middle school years and feels very bad knowing that he’s not only dealing with gun violence today but is a victim of it too.
The entire Georgia AAPI community mourned the losses of Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, and Hyun Jung Grant.
Webb still looks to repay the community that helped him in ways he’ll “never forget.” He frequently drives up to Georgia from his home in Florida to offer assistance to Michelle Au (D-Johns Creek), who helped found Georgia’s first AAPI caucus which is one of the largest in the nation.
Two years post the Atlanta Spa Shootings — hope is hard to find for Peterson. Still, he wants to bring gun violence victims together with his own organization and finish writing his memoir that he’s currently working on. Peterson knows how the AAPI community was impacted in more ways than one which are still unraveling and being discovered.
“This violence has destroyed families, but it's mostly destroyed communities. Losing my mother was more than a personal attack on my family,” Peterson said.