Joe Vang grew up on St. Paul’s East Side. He fell into a gang and by 17 was worried he would get shot by a gang rival. He got his first gun, a .380, from an older gang member.

“As we get older, we realized it’s getting serious so we started carrying guns. We were getting into deep trouble with other rivals, other gang members, so my bigger friends, older friends, decided to give us guns for protection.”

Older gang members showed him how to use the semiautomatic pistol. They drove to a rural area and practiced shooting. Vang, now 22, was imprisoned in 2011 for illegal gun possession.

“I never got to the point where I shot at somebody, but I got close to it.”

As far as getting shot at: “Many times. Never hit.”


Deandrae White of St. Paul started using guns at age 13 and stole his first gun at 16.

“Some guys will give you a gun if you’re with them. You know, they’re older. They know ... if you’re younger and catch a case, you go to juvenile, so that’s how it really was there. You’ll be in the car, they’ll be close by, and they’re like, ‘Hey, shoot them.’ You shoot them. It’s how you gain respect.”

White, now 25, was imprisoned in 2012 for theft of a firearm.

“A lot of people are addicted to drugs — I’m addicted to firearms. It makes me feel like a god.”