As a gunologist, not to mention an Asian-American gun owner, a recent episode of the Red, Blue & Brady podcast on racism against the AAPI community and gun ownership caught my attention.
The episode focused on a recently published study by a group of public health scholars who fielded a national survey of 916 Asian Americans asking about their experiences of racial discrimination and their firearm-related behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is a lot of anecdata floating around about how anti-Asian discrimination increased during the pandemic (think of people taking the “China virus” and “kung flu” language to the next outgroup level), and that this led to unprecedented gun buying among Asian Americans.
Of course, without historical data, we can’t really speak to “precedent,” but these scholars find that 6.0% of respondents said they purchased a gun during COVID and another 11.2% said they intended to purchase a gun. Of the 6% of COVID gun buyers, 54.6% were first-time gun buyers.
If the survey is accurate and representative, then 3.3% of Asian American adults in the United States became new gun owners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some quick calculations (roughly 20 million Asian Americans, about 75% being over 18) suggests that about half a million Asian Americans became new gun owners.
On the podcast, the authors note that part of the idea of doing the study was a phone call from a gun store owner in Battle Creek, Michigan who was wondering why so many Asian Americans were buying guns all of a sudden. Battle Creek is home to refugees from Burma dating back to the mid-1970s and a couple thousand live in the community today.
According to the abstract, the study found:
Asian Americans who experienced racial discrimination were more likely to purchase a gun and ammunition and intend to purchase more ammunition during the COVID-19 pandemic. AAs who perceived more cultural racism were more likely to purchase a gun. Individuals who reported higher anticipatory racism-related stress reported greater intent to purchase guns.Examining racism and firearm-related risks among Asian Americans in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic (Preventive Medicine Reports, June 2022)
I was not surprised that the authors are working within The Standard Model of Explaining the Irrationality of Defensive Gun Ownership. This was evident in the podcast appearance if not fully in the associated article. They understand that these Asian Americans are buying guns for personal protection (Point 1 of The Standard Model).
They highlight the frequency of gun carry by their gun-owning respondents:
Finally, 38.2% (n = 39) of individual gun owners indicated that they had carried a gun more frequently since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the top reason was for protection (Table 2). Furthermore, more than 1/3 of gun owners (38.5%, n = 15) reported that they carried a gun over half of the time (greater than 45 days) in the last three months.
They suggest (on the podcast) that guns are rarely used for self-defense (Point 2 of The Standard Model) and instead “the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent racism directed toward Asian Americans increased their risk for firearm injury through increased gun and ammunition purchase and unsafe storage” (Point 3 of The Standard Model).
They conclude by characterizing their study as one of the first to consider “the effects of discrimination of firearm-related risks,” there of course not being associated benefits worthy of mentioning.
Which recalls the conclusion of Studdert and his colleagues in their recent article on handgun ownership and suicide: “This information is also important for current and prospective firearm owners seeking to weigh the risks and perceived benefits of ownership.” Objective risk vs. perceived benefits, if any.
In the podcast, they advocate what Eric Ruben (SMU Law School) called in a Twitter exchange with me a “softer version” of The Standard Model. They don’t condemn gun ownership outright but highlight the need for better firearms safety education, especially around issues of safe storage. That’s something I can definitely get on board with.