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In the Midst of the Buffalo Shooting, Shootings Targeting AAPI Communities Took Place in Dallas, TX and Laguna Woods, Calif.

May 19, 2022

As the country continues to mourn the lives taken during the shooting in Buffalo, shootings in Dallas, TX and Laguna Woods, California highlight the pervasive issue of hate motivated violence in the country. On Sunday, the day after the shooting in Buffalo, a man shot six people – one fatally – during a lunch held by Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church. Law enforcement have confirmed the shooting was hate motivated and targeting the Taiwanese community. And on Friday, Dallas police announced they believed three recent shootings at Asian-owned businesses in the area were connected and being investigated as a hate crime. The latest shooting, last week, resulted in three Korean women being shot and wounded. 

According to reports from NBC, the shooter in Dallas last week “was involved in a car crash with an Asian man several years ago and has since suffered ‘panic attacks and delusions when he is around anyone of Asian descent.’” He had also been fired from a job after he verbally attacked a boss of Asian descent. The shooter had also been admitted to several mental health facilities. However, Texas’s weak gun laws didn’t allow for an extreme risk protection order to remove his access to firearms. 

May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, hate crimes and violence targeting the AAPI community have surged. As the pandemic has continued to evolve and reports of attacks on Asian Americans have continued into 2022, the safety and wellbeing of the AAPI community, particularly AAPI women, remains a critical issue. According to the State of Safety Survey, 71% of AANHPI women report feeling anxious or stressed due to fear of discrimination, harassment, or violence, and 40% report feeling more unsafe today as compared to start of COVID-19 pandemic.  

Both the targeted attacks in Dallas and Laguna Woods are products of xenophobia, hate and easy access to firearms. Stopping access to firearms is an immediate way to address the deadliness of extremism and hate-motivated violence. Here are three ways we can empower the response while strengthening the tools we have to disarm hate:

  1. Disarm Domestic Terrorists and White Supremacists: Any national security response to domestic terrorism and violent white supremacy must center and make available to states those tools that disrupt access to guns. New York enacted a strong Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) tool but we just witnessed what happens when that tool stays in the toolbox. The Buffalo shooter made threats to commit a school shooting that were investigated by State Police and he was sent for a mental health evaluation while at the same time was being radicalized with white supremacist ideology. An ERPO would have removed any guns he had access to while denying him the ability to purchase new ones. There must be an unequivocal commitment to using the tools at our disposal to disarm domestic terrorists that have shown evidence of being a threat to our communities. That includes:
  • Enacting and fully implementing tools like ERPOs that can remove guns from individuals found during investigations to be engaged in domestic extremist or white supremacist activities. There must be mandatory training on how ERPOs can be used to disarm violent extremists, including emphasizing the existing federal grant programs that can be used to support training and technical assistance for states to implement ERPO laws.
  • Congress passing a strong federal ERPO law that would support the states that have passed ERPO laws, encourage additional states to pass strong ERPO laws, and establish a strong federal EPRO process that can be used in federal courts in all fifty states. 
  • Closing the federal and state loopholes in our background check laws and stopping the proliferation of ghost guns so prohibited domestic terrorists cannot purchase guns without a background check. 
  1. A Coordinated National Response to Confront Domestic Terrorism: The federal government must use all the resources and tools at its disposal to combat domestic terrorism and that requires leadership. In June 2021, President Joe Biden initiated a national strategy for combating domestic terrorism that must be robustly implemented. The President has taken the crucial step of nominating an ATF Director who has the experience combating hate necessary to support that mission: Steve Dettelbach. 
  • There are many federal agencies engaged in the work to confront domestic terrorism and white supremacy and ATF is a key player. ATF is responsible for identifying and cracking down on the ways in which domestic terrorists get armed.
  • Dettelbach has the experience prosecuting domestic violent extremists and has worked both inside and outside of government to implement broader strategies to confront domestic terrorism. He is the right person to ensure this critical agency is doing all it can to identify how domestic terrorists get armed and what we can do to make sure they don’t have access to guns.
  1. The Gun Industry Is Part of the Problem and Must be Part of the Solution: The firearms industry caters to extremists seeking the tactical weaponry necessary to commit acts of terror while simultaneously shielding itself from liability and scrutiny. It supports laws and policies that enable extremists to easily and legally arm themselves. It embraces and funds gun lobby groups that amplify dangerous lies of extremist movements in a bid to capture their political fervor. And then its advertisements and marketing materials irresponsibly romanticize warfare and glorifies combat weapons in civilian hands. And yet, the industry enjoys special protections so it can’t be held accountable for its contributions to gun violence and domestic terrorism. 
  • Congress should repeal all of the gun industry’s special protections, including the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), so it can be held accountable for supplying the weaponry used to commit acts of terror. 
  • Gun sellers must be trained to identify signs that a buyer is engaged in domestic terrorism just like they are trained to identify straw purchasers so that they can truly be the front lines in denying sales to people who are bent on committing mass murder. 
  • The Federal Trade Commission must take action to reign in the deceptive and dangerous marketing by gun companies. 

Hate-motivated violence is not the only form of gun violence impacting the AAPI community. Data from the CDC shows that young Asians and Pacific Islanders have the fastest-growing firearm suicide rate of any racial/ethnic group, increasing 168% from 2011 to 2020. A survey from the CDC spanning the first half of 2021 found that nearly 16% of Asian and 12% of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander high school students seriously considered suicide in the past year. And research from The Trevor Project found that in 2020, 40% of AAPI LGBTQ+ youth ages 13 to 24 seriously contemplated suicide.

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