Since the mid-1960s, self-defense has been the foundational argument used by the gun industry to sell firearms, primarily handguns, in the United States. In this effort, gunmakers have been aided by the gun lobby, most notably the National Rifle Association of America (NRA). Firearms are promoted as risk-free tools necessary for the defense of self and family from myriad threats, most frequently an attack by a stranger. Never acknowledged is the demonstrable fact that guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes, and that most homicides occur between people who know one another.1 Also missing from this false and simplistic narrative is the reality of the trauma, legal and financial risk, and long-term emotional repercussions that can come with the act of taking another human life.2
Historically, the primary demographic targeted by the gun industry has been white males. This is now changing as the result of the fact that this traditional customer base is aging while gunmakers, to paraphrase a tobacco industry term, have failed to recruit a sufficient number of ‘replacement shooters’ to fill their thinning ranks. As a result, household and individual gun ownership over the past few decades in the United States have declined significantly and remain relatively stagnant.3
While children and women have been the default targets of the industry in the wake of stagnation of the white male market, there has also been a growing campaign to market guns to minority groups in America, primarily for self-defense. Latino and Black Americans have been the primary focus of these efforts. This has begun to shift in the wake of high-profile racist attacks on members of the Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, including a mass shooting in Atlanta, Georgia, during the COVID-19 pandemic. As an April 2021 Pew Research survey found, “Amid widespread reports of discrimination and violence against Asian Americans during the coronavirus outbreak, 32% percent of Asian adults say they have feared someone might threaten or physically attack them – a greater share than other racial or ethnic groups. The vast majority of Asian adults (81%) also say violence against them is increasing, far surpassing the share of all U.S. adults (56%) who say the same….”4
Seeing an opportunity to exploit the fear spurred by these horrific attacks, the firearms industry has moved swiftly to expand its efforts targeting the AAPI community.5
Increased firearms ownership can only increase gun death and injury among Asian Americans. Bringing a gun into the home increases the risk of death and injury not only to the gun owner, but to his or her family as measured in suicides, homicides, and fatal unintentional injuries – regardless of race or ethnicity.6 At the same time, contrary to gunmakers’ false promises, firearms are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes. For example, for the five-year period 2015 through 2019, only 37 firearm justifiable homicides committed by Asian/Pacific Islanders were reported to the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report. During the same five-year period, 3,076 Asian/Pacific Islanders died in firearm suicides, homicides, and fatal unintentional shootings: a ratio of 83 to one. And according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), non-lethal self-defense gun uses are equally rare. (For additional information, please click here).
Recognizing the low gun ownership rate of the AAPI community in the United States, the potential financial benefits to the firearms industry are clear. Just as important to both the firearms industry and gun lobby are the potential political benefits. Asian Americans strongly support stricter gun laws.7 They are also the fastest-growing population among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Between 2000 and 2019, the Asian population in the U.S. grew from roughly 10.5 million to a record 18.9 million, an increase of 81 percent. By 2060, the number of Asians in the United States is projected to rise to 35.8 million, more than three times the 2000 population.8 In the eyes of the firearms industry and gun lobby, the purchase of a firearm is the hoped-for first step down the path for new gun owners to become pro-gun advocates and voters.
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1 Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use, Violence Policy Center, May 2020 (http://vpc.org/studies/justifiable20.pdf).
2 See, for example, Unintended Consequences: Pro-Handgun Experts Prove That Handguns Are a Dangerous Choice for Self-Defense, Violence Policy Center, November 2001 (https://vpc.org/publications/unintended-consequences/).
3 From 1977 to 2018, the percentage of American households that reported having any guns in the home dropped by 32 percent. During this period household gun ownership hit its peak in 1977, when more than half (50.4 percent) of American households reported having any guns. By 2018, 34.3 of American households reported having any guns in the home, a drop of 16 percentage points. From 1985 to 2018, the percentage of Americans who reported personally owning a gun dropped more than 28 percent. During this period, personal gun ownership hit its peak in 1985, when 30.5 percent of Americans reported personally owning a gun. By 2018, this number had dropped nearly nine percentage points to 21.9 percent. For more information, see The Long-Term Decline of Gun Ownership in America: 1973 to 2018, Violence Policy Center, June 2020 (http://vpc.org/studies/ownership.pdf).
4 “One-third of Asian Americans fear threats, physical attacks and most say violence against them is rising,” Neil G. Ruiz, Khadijah Edwards, and Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew Research Center, April 21, 2021 (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/04/21/one-third-of-asian-americans-fear-threats-physical-attacks-and-most-say-violence-against-them-is-rising/).
5 The U.S. Census defines Asian as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam” and defines Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands” (see https://www.census.gov/topics/population/race/about.html). Throughout this study, these two groups will be referred to as the AAPI community or Asian Americans. When data cited specifically states Asian/Pacific Islander, such as that collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this designation will be used.
6 See, for example: “Firearm Ownership and Domestic Versus Nondomestic Homicide in the U.S.,” Aaron J. Kivisto, Lauren A. Magee, et al., American Journal of Preventive Medicine, September 2019, Volume 57, Issue 3, pp. 311-320; “Unintentional Firearm Deaths in the United States 2005 – 2015,” Sara Solnick, David Hemenway, Injury Epidemiology, October 14, 2019, Volume 6, Number 42; “Rates of Household Firearm Ownership and Homicide Across US Regions and States, 1988 – 1997,” Matthew Miller, Deborah Azrael, David Hemenway, American Journal of Public Health, December 2002, Volume 92, Issue 12, pp. 1988-1993; “Firearm Availability and Homicide: A Review of the Literature,” Lisa M. Hepburn, David Hemenway, Aggression and Violent Behavior, Volume 9, Issue 4, July 2004, pp. 417-440; “Household Firearm Ownership and Suicide Rates in the United States,” Matthew Miller, Deborah Azrael, David Hemenway, Epidemiology, September 2002, Volume 13, Number 5, pp. 517-524.
7 See, for example, AAPI Data, https://aapidata.com/?s=gun.
8 Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S., Abby Budiman, Neil G. Ruiz, Pew Research Center, April 9, 2021 (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/04/09/asian-americans-are-the-fastest-growing-racial-or-ethnic-group-in-the-u-s/).