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Long Beach Residents Remember Worse Times of Violence

Chen Kasanoy, center, watches as her husband, Mike Bunthung, left greets and comforts family members and friends at the funeral for their slain son Woodtee Bunthung Sunday, Jan. 11, 2004, in Long Beach, Calif. Six young Cambodian-American men, including a Marine just back from Iraq, have died since late October in a rash of suspected gang-related violence in Long Beach, home to the largest concentration of Cambodians outside Phnom Penh. Police say at least three of thevictims had gang affiliations; the others may have been cases of mistaken identity. (AP Photo/Ric Francis)
LONG BEACH - In the wake of the school shootings last month in Newtown, Connecticut, many Americans are discussing the nation’s ties to guns and violence.

Long Beach, Calif., was once known for gang violence and shootings, but things have changed these days. In the neighborhoods of the city, many Cambodian-Americans are free to walk around, play games like chess, or stroll with their families.

It was not always this safe. This part of Long Beach was once known for its crime, and especially violence between rival gangs.

On a recent afternoon on Anaheim Boulevard, in the heart of Cambodia Town, a group of men sat in the open air of a parking lot, playing Cambodian chess. Two men played as others looked on and coached, including Vann Chim, a longtime resident of Long Beach.

He said the streets were not always this safe, and only in recent years have they moved their games outside.

“There were youngsters driving around shooting one another,” he said. “It wasn’t safe.”

The height of the violence came in the early 1990s, as rival gangs vied for power and newly immigrated Cambodians sought to find security in their new American home. Increased police response and a change in the gang landscape here decreased the violence.

However, But Rose, who grew up here, says she remembers leaving for a while, to live outside the city, and coming back to visit.

“I would ask, where’s this person, where’s that person, and they’d tell me, oh they’re gone, or they’re dead, or they’re disappeared,” she said.

She walked through her old neighborhood on a recent afternoon, recalling gang fights, drive-by shootings and other instances of neighborhood violence.

Now it’s much quieter. California has the strictest gun control laws in the country. And one of its Congressional representatives, Democratic Senator Diana Feinstein, plans to introduce new national legislation to assault weapons.

And so the American gun debate will continue. For But Rose, it’s more important that society become more accepting of people.

“Guns aren’t the problem; it’s the wielder,” she said, as the old men continued to move their chess pieces around the board to the coaching of onlookers. “Why wouldn’t a person who feels victimized by the masses not want to attack the masses?”