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.

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From Relative Risk to Absolute Risk of Negative Outcomes with Firearms – And Back

I have been writing quite a bit lately about negative outcomes with firearms for my book on American gun culture. As I’ve stated repeatedly state on this blog and in various publications over the years, unlike most scholars studying guns, my starting point is not the deviance of guns but their normality.

But people care about negative outcomes with firearms such as homicide and suicide, including myself and other gun owners, so here we are.

I recently posted about the importance of considering absolute risk compared to relative risk when looking at negative outcomes with firearms. I mentioned, for example, that the relative risk of dying from an unintentional firearms injury in the U.S. is TWICE that of Italy. But the absolute risk of dying from an unintentional firearms injury in Italy is 1 in a million and in the U.S. it is 2 in a million, so some perspective is in order not to spark irrational fear.

In retrospect, the title “absolute vs. relative risk” was not the best, especially for someone who is constantly preaching the importance of both/and in understanding guns and gun culture rather than either/or. We need to understand BOTH relative risk AND absolute risk.

One of my top former students at Wake Forest read the absolute/relative risk post on my Facebook page and commented:

I think these numbers would be more meaningful too compared to some baseline that people can relate to more easily – say, the risk of being injured in a car accident.

I don’t disagree, though this does take us back to the question of relative risk.

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Further Exploring American Exceptionalism via the Global Burden of Disease Study (Suicide)

Yesterday I explored America’s violent exceptionalism by looking at homicide data for the 38 member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) collected by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

Today I want to see what these data tell us about the problem of suicide in the United States relative to our peer nations. Are we exceptional here, too?

As with my examination of homicide, this is admittedly a very simplistic analysis. But for my work, it is important to be able to say something about the big picture of negative outcomes with firearms in the United States as a starting point for more sophisticated analyses.

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Exploring America’s Violent Exceptionalism via the Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network (Homicide)

Lately, I have been working on the chapter of my book on American gun culture that explores negative outcomes with firearms.

Although I differ from most scholars studying guns by beginning not with gun deviance but with the normality of guns and gun owners, I do take negative outcomes seriously.

America is exceptional in the world for the number of firearms legally owned by its citizens, as well as the laws and culture that support widespread civilian gun ownership. Understanding this has been central to my work over the years.

America is also exceptional among its peer nations in its rate of firearm-related deaths. Here I will focus on homicide using 2019 data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study for the 38 member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These are high-income, high human development index, developed nations which provide an appropriate peer comparison group for understanding homicide rates in the United States.

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Thinking About Absolute vs. Relative Risk of Negative Outcomes with Firearms

Lately, I have been working on the chapter of my book on American gun culture that explores negative outcomes with firearms.

Although I differ from most scholars studying guns by beginning not with gun deviance but with the normality of guns and gun owners, I do take negative outcomes seriously.

Trying to get a better understanding of how the United States compares to other countries in the world in terms of negative outcomes with firearms, I recently stumbled upon the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and its cross-national Global Burden of Disease (GBD) database (more about IHME GBD at the end).

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Grumpy Old Man Tries Google Bard AI Chatbot on the Normality of Guns

The Dana Carvey SNL character “Grumpy Old Man” has always been a favorite of mine, especially the tagline, “I like things the way they used to be.”

Now, I am not a full-on Luddite when it comes to technology. I got my first computer (Apple IIc) when I went to college in 1986. Got my first laptop (a Grid) in 1988. I was sending emails over our IBM DEC Vax system when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit the SF Bay area in 1989. And so on.

But I am not typically an early adopter of new technology. So, I wasn’t very interested in AI chatbots when they began to hit the news this spring. But when Google offered me the opportunity to try their Bard AI chatbot, I signed up.

When I got access to it recently, I honestly didn’t know what I would use it for. But it helpfully gave some ideas, including offering to help sketch out a blog post. Naturally, I thought of what I might want to have it outline.

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The Presentation That Wasn’t: Gun Culture 2.0 and the Changing Face of Gun Owners in America

I have presented my work dozens of times in the 30 years since my first academic conference presentation in 1992. I had never missed a scheduled presentation until this year, when I could not attend a session (organized by Nicholas Buttrick and including Tara Warner and Emmy Betz) at the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science due to my father’s death.

My topic was “Gun Culture 2.0 and the Changing Face of Gun Owners in America.” What I was going to talk about was not new to me, but I was excited to bring my ideas about guns and gun culture to a new audience.

If you are new to my work, if you want a refresher, or ICYMI, you can get an idea of my approach to this topic both in writing and video.

Two YouTube videos from my “Light Over Heat” channel follow. The first is a 15 minute presentation I made to the Outdoor Writers Association of American in October 2021, and the second is the third Light Over Heat video I posted in January 2022. A couple of links to my writing on the issue are included as well.

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Talking About Guns Across the Political Spectrum

Can we use the social media echo chamber to escape the echo chambers we all live in? I try to do this by maintaining an ideologically diverse set of friends and followers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

I am also fortunate to be asked to speak about guns by groups and media outlets across the political spectrum, from firearms lawyers to Lutheran ethicists, as well as ideologically mixed groups.

Doing so helps me achieve my goal for 2023: to have brave and empathetic conversations about guns.

My two most recent podcast appearances allowed me to speak to two (probably pretty) distinct audiences about my work on guns, gun culture, and the Sociology of Guns.

If you can’t/don’t want to watch/listen to the YouTube videos embedded above, you can also listen to audio-only versions of these podcasts:

Talking About Guns by 97Percent, Season 2, Episode 24 from 23 February 2023

The Republican Professor podcast from 13 February 2023

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.

Understanding and Misunderstanding American Gun Culture and Violence

As I discussed recently, I had the opportunity to share my views on American gun culture and gun violence at the 31st annual gathering of the Lutheran Ethicists’ Network (LEN) in January.

A written version of my talk will be published in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics later this year. For the time-being, I have put a preprint of the paper online as a free download at SocArxiv.

Following the break, I will summarize the paper.

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Having Brave and Empathetic Conversations About Guns

Just as I was returning home from the promising Deseret Elevate gathering I recently described, I received an interesting invitation from some leaders of the Lutheran Ethicists’ Network (LEN).

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA – the liberal Lutheran denomination in the US) is planning to issue considering [correction 2/26/23] a statement on gun violence and the LEN wants to inform that work. So I was invited to join them at their 31st annual gathering at the famous Palmer House in Chicago to discuss “Guns, Violence, and Security in the U.S.: What Might the ELCA Say Now?”

Lobby of Palmer House in Chicago. Photo by David Yamane
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