Talking About Violence in the Asian American Community, Especially the Recent Half Moon Bay Mass Murder


I am Asian-American (half Japanese-American on my father’s side) and grew up in Half Moon Bay, California. The coincidence of this with the mass murder of 7 people in Half Moon Bay by an Asian man led to a conversation recently with Randy Miyan on the Liberal Gun Owners podcast.

My appearance was broken into two separate segments (S2G35 and S2G36) and followed two segments with fellow half-Japanese-American (but also half-Chinese American) Chris Cheng (S2G33 and S2G34).

Although I am not an expert in mass violence, I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on issues that hit very close to home and do so from a very personal perspective at times.

Of course, I typically turn to statistics before getting personal on these issues. The following is the documentation for some of the empirical claims I make during these episodes.

I first observe that the Half Moon Bay shooter was not a U.S. citizen. I mention this only because a 2019 Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans believe immigrants are making the crime situation worse in America. This is perhaps not surprising given political rhetoric that some immigrants are “bad hombres” and “animals” and come from “shithole countries.”

But according to a scholar from the (libertarian not librul) CATO Institute, illegal immigrants (in Texas) have a 45% lower criminal conviction rate than native-born American citizens and legal immigrants have a 62% lower rate. This holds across all types of crime from violent to property-related.

So, the citizenship status of the mass murderer in Half Moon Bay (and, I could add, in Monterey Park, California where the shooter was a naturalized U.S. citizen) does not seem to me to be part of the story.

What about the fact that both the Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park murderers were Asian men?

The fact that they were men almost goes without saying. The vast majority of mass shooters are men, as are mass murderers more generally.

What about the fact that they were both Asian? This, I think, is more interesting. We know that Asians are about 6% of the U.S. population but commit disproportionately fewer murders. In 2019, for example, only 1.0% of those charged with murder or nonnegligent manslaughter in the U.S. were Asian.

But study after study shows that the proportion of MASS murderers who are Asian is closer to their share of the U.S. population, and perhaps even greater than their share. That is, Asians may be overrepresented among “mass shooters” and “mass murderers” in the U.S. This holds across datasets that cover different time periods and have different definitions of “mass shooting” or “mass murder.”

The table above appears in “US Mass public shootings since Columbine: victims per incident by race and ethnicity of the perpetrator” (Preventative Medicine).

9 percent of mass public shooters in The Violence Project database for 1999-2021 are Asian, more than we would expect based on their population proportion, and much more than we would expect based on the overall Asian murder rate.

The table above, produced by Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy, uses the Mother Jones magazine database of 121 mass shootings from 1982 to 2021. He also finds Asian mass shooters to be overrepresented relative to their population proportion.

Using a database of 308 mass murders from 2006-2014, criminologist Adam Lankford again finds the proportion of mass murderers who are Asian to be close to their population proportion, or perhaps slightly overrepresented at 6.3%. Notably, Lankford highlights that Asians are significantly overrepresented among mass murders compared to their proportion of everyday murders (1.5%, z = 6.00***).

Of course, not all mass murders are the same. Indeed, one prominent definition of “mass shooting” highlights their commission in public places (hence “mass public shooting”) and excludes those committed in the context of robbery, gang violence, or conventionally motivated crime (used by Mother Jones magazine and The Violence Project).

This is significant because, as Adam Lankford shows, there are racial differences in mass murder by attack type. Asians (and Whites) disproportionately commit family and public killings, while Black and Latino mass murders are more likely to be in the context of robbery/burglary.

The table above also highlights two other significant findings concerning Asian mass murder. First, Asian mass murders have the highest average body count (6.88, F = 4.57***). Second, Asian mass murderers are most likely to be killed (i.e., commit suicide either directly or by cop) in the commission of their crime (63% vs. 44% for Whites, 38% for Latinos, and 15% for Blacks).

These additional facts highlight the need for nuance in understanding mass murder cross-racially, a nuance that Randy Miyan and I try to emphasize in these podcast episodes.

Even as we try to find patterns and explanations, it’s also important to recognize that Asian mass murder is extremely uncommon. The Preventative Medicine study mentioned above includes 9 total cases of Asian mass shooters over a 22-year period (0.4 cases per year using The Violence Project data). Eugene Volokh’s analysis includes 8 total cases over a 40-year period (0.2 cases per year using Mother Jones data). And Adam Lankford’s data includes 15 total cases of Asian mass murderers in an 8-year period (1.875 cases per year).

If you appreciate this or some of the other 250+ posts on this blog, please consider supporting my research and writing on American gun culture by liking and sharing my work.

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