Study reveals Asian Americans armed themselves during the pandemic out of fear of racial acts

YPSILANTI— Asian Americans who experienced increased acts of racism at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic were more likely to acquire firearms and ammunition for self-defense, according to a study by researchers at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and the University of Michigan (U-M).

Tsu-Yin Wu
Tsu-Yin Wu

According to lead study author Tsu-Yin Wu, professor of nursing and director of EMU's Center for Health Disparities Innovation and Studies, the study titled “Examining racism and firearm-related risks among Asian Americans in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic” stems from the authors noticing hate crimes among Asian Americans were becoming more prevalent and saw an opportunity to provide more education in this area.

"A major finding of our data suggests that racism links to increased firearm purchase and carrying behavior which put Asian Americans at elevated risk of firearm injury and mortality," said Wu. “The findings also suggest an urgent need to investigate further the compounded effects of racism, the COVID-19 pandemic and firearm-related behaviors and invest in prevention efforts to mitigate firearm-related risks." 

The researchers collected data in December 2020 and January 2021 from a representative national sample of 916 adults who identified as Asian American. They looked at demographics, firearm-related risks (i.e., firearm storage and carrying), firearm and ammunition purchases, and measures of racism/discrimination experiences since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We also found the way firearms were stored unlocked and loaded and carried more frequently, are indicators of increased injury risk,” said co-author, Hsing-Fang Hsieh, assistant research scientist in health behavior and health education at the U-M School of Public Health. Hsieh is also part of Public Health IDEAS for Preventing Firearm Injuries.

The research shows that Asian Americans who experienced more racial discrimination were more likely to purchase a gun and more ammunition during the pandemic after controlling for family firearm ownership and demographics. 

Asian Americans who also perceived more cultural racism—depicted negatively on social media and by news media and political leaders—were more likely to purchase a gun, and individuals who reported higher anticipatory racism-related stress declared greater intent to buy firearms. 

Some of the key findings:

  • More than half (55%) of individuals who purchased a gun since the start of the pandemic were first-time gun owners.
  • More than one-third of gun owners reported having carried a gun more frequently when they were outside their home since the pandemic.
  • Racial discrimination and cultural racism are associated with gun purchase while anticipatory racism-related stress is associated with intent to purchase a gun.

The researchers hope their work will help develop public health policies focusing on education and prevention of firearm injuries.

In addition to Wu and Hsieh, other authors included EMU professors Xining Yang and Chong Man Chow, and Ken Resnicow and Marc Zimmerman of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. The research was funded by the Michigan Healthy Asian Americans Project Endowment Fund and CDC COVID-19 Supplement funding.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 15,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

May 25, 2022

Written by:
Melissa Thrasher

Media Contact:
Melissa Thrasher