Saturday night’s shooter Huu Can Tran, 72, killed himself. On Tuesday, Half Moon Bay resident Chunli Zhao, 67, was taken into custody.
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These somber news weigh heavily on people’s mind. Families are shattered, and communities are torn apart again by the senseless acts of gun violence. I am feeling the same sadness, fear and anger as others. As a public health researcher, I have questions for policymakers.
Dozens of mass shootings already in just January
We are only three weeks into 2023, yet the nonprofit research group Gun Violence Archive has already counted 40 mass shootings in the United States, with nearly 3,000 deaths.
The archive defines a mass shooting as involving at least four people killed or injured. It reported 647 mass shootings last year.
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Gun violence is a public health crisis. According to the American Public Health Association, it is a leading cause of premature death. Each year, guns kill more than 38,000 people and cause about 85,000 injuries.
Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have not been spared by this pandemic. Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Giffords Law Center reported that about 650 individuals from these communities are killed in acts of gun violence annually. As is the case nationally, the majority (59%) of these deaths are by suicides, with 37% being homicides.
Hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Gun violence is preventable, and we must take steps to finally address it. A public health approach includes conducting surveillance of gun-related deaths and injuries and identifying risk factors – such as racism and mental health issues.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been experiencing a striking increase in discrimination and violence since COVID-19 began: Stop AAPI Hate reports nearly 11,500 incidents from March 2020 to March 2022.
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Compounding the economic distress, violence against Asian Americans have been mainly driven by political attacks on China and a resurgence in scapegoating the Asian community for COVID-19. This has caused more individuals to seek out means of protecting their families and resulting in a surge in gun purchasing, putting the AAPI community at elevated risk of firearm injury.
Addressing anti-Asian hate is imperative to healing our communities.
The public brutal attacks against AAPIs, coupled with discrimination in health care and business, have negatively impacted mental health. Yet according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 77% of Asian/Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders who had any mental illness did not receive treatment.
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Older Asian Americans face additional systemic barriers to mental health care – including lack of access to affordable insurance or linguistically and culturally appropriate health care, immigration status and stigma associated with mental illness.
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It’s long overdue to prioritize public efforts to address mental health disparities facing the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.
We also need to have commonsense gun policies, including requiring criminal background checks for all firearms purchases so that felons and people with severe mental illnesses don’t have access to these deadly weapons.
As I process these horrific acts of violence during what should be a time of joy for our communities, I am touched by the heartwarming messages of solidarity from friends from all walks of life.
People are tired of having to endure one mass shooting after another. U.S. policymakers need to take immediate action to address gun violence – because words don’t stop bullets, policies do.
Lanlan Xu, Ph.D., is a health services researcher and a community advocate for issues relating to Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California shootings are latest in gun violence pandemic. We must act