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What We Can Learn From the 2023 Lunar New Year Shootings

What We Can Learn From the 2023 Lunar New Year Shootings

— Asian American and Pacific Islander communities should be included in future research


Kwong is a research data analyst.

What was supposed to be a time of happiness and optimism for a new beginning was ruptured by tragedy and terror. In late January 2023, two horrific mass shootings targeted Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, California. The Asian assailants attacked the week of Lunar New Year, one of the most important holidays celebrated in many Asian cultures. Over a year later, these communities and other AAPI communities across the U.S. are still grappling with the devastating aftermath.

These shootings are only two instances of high-profile violence against AAPI communities within the past few years. In March 2021, a gunman shot and killed eight people at a spa in Atlanta, Georgia, six of whom were Asian women. In May 2022, another gunman opened fire and shot six people at a Taiwanese church in Irvine, California. In addition, misleading narratives from politicians during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a drastic uptick in physical and verbal attacks against the AAPI community.

With a growing threat to the AAPI community, it’s essential to include this group in future violence research and address the cultural stigma that may be contributing to the issue.

Violence Research on AAPI

While gun violence against AAPI people and communities has become more prominent, there is a lack of research that focuses on or is inclusive of the AAPI demographic. Much of the research on interpersonal gun violence in the U.S. focuses on Black Americans, and understandably so: the systematic oppression of this racial group has caused them to front the burden of firearm homicide in this country. However, there is significant room for AAPI communities in conversations about violence prevention and opportunities to grow the literature on the causes and effects of violence that are particular to their communities.

The need for gun violence research that is inclusive of AAPI demographics is especially important due to recent increases in gun ownership among AAPI individuals. The increase appears to have been catalyzed by pandemic-era racism and violence fueled by anti-AAPI sentiment. Many of the people driving this increase are first-time gun owners who may not have enough education nor experience with firearm safety and secure storage practices. This is concerning given that the presence of a gun in the household is associated with an increased risk of suicide and homicide among household members. Safe storage practices serve as protective factors.

The increasing number of guns in AAPI communities is made even more concerning when coupled with the existing gap in mental healthcare practice and accessibility.

Cultural Stigma Surrounding Mental Health and Other Risk Factors

In the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay shootings, there appears to have been several underlying issues that are deeply rooted in culture. The assailants were Asian immigrants, both over the age of 65. The shooter in Monterey Park was said to be somewhat of a loner who spent nights mostly by himself; both shooters had an alleged history of violence.

Research published in 2022 found that Asian American elders experience lower life satisfaction and less emotional support than their peers of other races. Yet, among those with mental illness, Asian people are less likely to utilize mental health services compared to other racial and ethnic groups. This is often due to cultural beliefs, shame, and embarrassment. While rates of mental illness are lower among Asian people than white people, this may be a factor of underdiagnosis and underreporting.

Older adult AAPI immigrants who have stronger cultural ties to their country of origin, limited English proficiency, and trauma from leaving war-torn countries and facing persecution in the U.S. as immigrant minorities may have an increased risk of mental illness. Both Lunar New Year shootings highlight the dangers of stigmatizing mental health within AAPI communities and the need for more research focusing on how to protect against these risk factors.

Progress for AAPI Representation

There is much to be concerned about regarding the increase of violence among AAPI and the lack of research into this issue. However, progress is being made. The 2nd annual AAPI Against Gun Violence convening was held in Washington D.C. in June 2023 and brought together advocates across many organizations to galvanize the gun violence prevention movement within the AAPI community. Recent research focused on AAPI and firearms — published within the last 2 years — provides a promising foundation for further study and developing effective interventions. There are also resources for gun owners to learn about safer storage. The fight against stigma and in support of improved mental healthcare access within AAPI communities continues.

It’s on each of us to shine a light on the issues impacting forgotten populations. Whether you’re including AAPI data in your next analysis, sharing information about safer firearm storage, or lessening the power of stigma by talking about mental health and illness, these necessary changes add up. Together, we can piece back the optimism that was shattered during the 2023 Lunar New Year, and work towards a safer future.

Alex Kwong is a research data analyst from the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. With an educational background in sociology and public health, he provides quantitative and qualitative analytical support to various research studies evaluating the effectiveness of current firearm policies.

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