California Shootings Come After Spike in Asian Americans Buying Guns

Two shootings that authorities say were carried out by elderly Asian men follow a spike in Asian Americans buying guns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This past Saturday night in Monterey Park, a predominantly Asian American city in California, the first Lunar New Year celebration since the pandemic began was kicking off when a gunman entered a ballroom dance hall and opened fire, killing 11 and injuring several more.

The suspect, Huu Can Tran, 72, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound as police closed in on his white van the following day, authorities said.

As that community began mourning, another mass shooting left seven people dead in the California city of Half Moon Bay on Monday afternoon. Officers arrested a suspect, 67-year-old Chunli Zhao, after they found him in his car in the parking lot of a sheriff’s substation.

The back-to-back shootings have left Asian American communities reeling, with advocacy groups calling them yet another blow after years of rising anti-Asian violence around the nation.

A person stands at a makeshift memorial
A person stands at a makeshift memorial outside the scene of a deadly mass shooting at a ballroom dance studio on January 23, 2023 in Monterey Park, California.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The shootings come after gun ownership soared during the pandemic, with firearm sales to Asian Americans rising by an estimated 43 percent in the first half of 2020, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Although data on firearm use among Asian Americans is limited, they have had low gun ownership rates historically, The Guardian reported last year.

But Asian Americans who experienced increased acts of racism at the start of the pandemic were more likely to buy firearms and ammunition for self-defense, a study by researchers at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University (EMU) found last year.

Asian Americans who perceived more cultural racism, including on social media, were also more likely to purchase a gun, the study found after collecting data in December 2020 and January 2021 from a representative national sample of 916 adults who identified as Asian American.

The findings indicated “an urgent need to investigate further the compounded effects of racism, the COVID-19 pandemic and firearm-related behaviors in this population,” said Tsu-Yin Wu, the study’s lead author and the director of EMU’s Center for Health Disparities Innovation and Studies.

Co-author Hsing-Fang Hsieh, an assistant research scientist in health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, said the data also suggests “that racism and its link to increased firearm ownership and carrying may put Asian Americans at elevated risk of firearm injury.”

Newsweek has contacted the study’s authors for further comment.

Sylvia Chan-Malik, an associate professor at Rutgers University, told Newsweek another factor is that Asian American elders may be less likely to seek mental health treatment.

“Our communities, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, East Asian communities that are now in diaspora in the United States are all communities that have gone through intense traumas before arriving in the United States,” said Chan-Malik, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.

She continued: “Collective traumas, displacement, poverty, authoritarian governments…they are people who have trauma in their backgrounds, if not personally then collectively in their families.

“Mental health is a huge issue because it’s not one that elderly Asian Americans are going to go seek treatment for,” Chan-Malik said. “So these types of traumatic histories do, I believe, make them more susceptible to particular ideologies and prone to turning to violence.”

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