INDIANAPOLIS — The anti-gun crowd is going to have a hard time trying to fit Chris Cheng into the meticulously crafted stereotype of a National Rifle Association member. An openly gay former Google employee from San Francisco, Cheng is a professional marksman, lifetime NRA member and one of the gun rights group’s newest commentators.
You may recognize Cheng from the popular History Channel TV show “Top Shot.” A self-taught marksman, he entered the national competition as an underdog and ended up winning it all in 2012. In an interview at the 2014 NRA convention, he told TheBlaze he took home $100,000 in prize money (before taxes) and the very first investment he made was to upgrade his NRA membership to lifetime status.
After winning “Top Shot,” Cheng made the decision to quit his job at Google — regularly voted as the best company to work for — to accept a professional marksmanship contract with Bass Pro Shop. He said he realized at the time shooting guns for a living wasn’t as stable of a career as the one he currently had, but that didn’t matter much to him. And just like that, Cheng’s passion became his job.
As an openly gay Asian-American living in San Francisco, Cheng said he wants to make the absolute most out of his gig as an NRA commentator and show the country that the Second Amendment isn’t for one specific type of person or race — it covers all men and women equally.
“I want diversity to be a very strong part of my contribution to the NRA and the Second Amendment community,” he told TheBlaze. “If you are a law-abiding citizen who wants to exercise not just your Second Amendment rights, but all the rights we have. If we don’t exercise our rights and protect them then there are people who want to take them away and turn this country into something that it wasn’t meant to be.”
Even though NRA members are routinely stereotyped and labeled as all “old, white rednecks,” Cheng said there are so many different types of people united on the issue of guns and and the right to self-defense.
And to any NRA members who actually happen to be so-called “rednecks,” there’s nothing wrong with that either, he said.
“This Is Who I Am”
There are some striking similarities between the gun debate and divisive gay rights issues, according to Cheng.
Most pro-gun advocates don’t generally get outraged just because someone may dislike firearms — they generally draw the line when those people want to disarm them: It’s the actual act of infringing on personal freedoms that gets under the skin of gun owners.
Cheng told TheBlaze he understands some people will not agree with his “lifestyle” — a word he said sarcastically and put in air quotes — but they should also realize that telling him he should be legally barred from marrying another man is essentially asking him to deny who he is in the same way gun control advocates want to turn gun owners into defenseless victims.
“This is who I am,” he said. “I don’t care if somebody doesn’t agree with me for whatever reasons.”
It’s OK to disagree, he continued. And though he said he feels his personal decisions don’t negatively impact others and therefore should be his business, Cheng said it still shouldn’t stop people from uniting on other issues like the Second Amendment.
Overall, though, he says he’s seen a lot of support. Most of the people who attack him do so on Internet forums, which he usually likes to avoid. However, he told TheBlaze he’s ready and unafraid to field more attacks now that he’s standing with the NRA.
“If you feel society hates you because you’re Asian, because you’re gay, because you’re Jewish or whatever — I know what that feels like,” he concluded.
From Google to “Top Shot” and the NRA
Believe it or not, Cheng didn’t grow up entrenched in gun culture. He told us his parents took him to the gun range as a family activity every few years, but that was the extent of it.
It was a television show — “Top Shot” — that made him realize he wanted to do competitive shooting. So he taught himself how to shoot over the next few years and eventually made it on season four of his favorite show as a contestant.
“I went out and bought my first AR-15 after watching the ‘Top Shot’ challenge with the AR-15,” Cheng said. “It really was the show that did it.”
Check out some of Cheng’s handiwork below:
Immediately after the “Top Shot” finale aired in 2012, Cheng’s boss congratulated him on winning the competition — and he told his boss he was leaving Google. He had nothing but highly positive things to say about the tech giant, calling it one of the best places to work in the world. Yet he still walked away from an “awesome” salary and job security for the chance that he might make it as a professional shooter.
Cheng actually posted the footage of all of his friends going nuts in a bar after it was announced he was the winner of “Top Shot” back in 2012:
When we pressed to give an inside scoop on what it’s like to work for Google, he quickly remembered the food. He said Google employees each day are served three “hot meals” cooked by world-renown chefs that the company hires. One of the best parts of that perk, he explained, was the fact that the chefs could literally cook anything they wanted — and had a large enough budget that the only limit was their imaginations.
At Google, Cheng worked in technical support for Google Apps. He said several of his friends and former co-workers at Google certainly disagree with him about guns, but because they know who he is, it challenges their own perception of what a gun owner looks like.
“They didn’t just start hating me when guns became my job,” Cheng said. “And all I can really do is be completely authentic about who I am. For gun owners, there are some who are very hesitant to speak out about how they go to range on the weekends or whatever. The fear is, their associates and family or friends are going to tie them together with the murderers and all the violent uses of firearms.”
“We should never have to be afraid to be who we are,” he added.