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.
I first observe that the Half Moon Bay shooter was not a U.S. citizen. I mention this only because a 2019 Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans believe immigrants are making the crime situation worse in America. This is perhaps not surprising given political rhetoric that some immigrants are “bad hombres” and “animals” and come from “shithole countries.”
But according to a scholar from the (libertarian not librul) CATO Institute, illegal immigrants (in Texas) have a 45% lower criminal conviction rate than native-born American citizens and legal immigrants have a 62% lower rate. This holds across all types of crime from violent to property-related.
So, the citizenship status of the mass murderer in Half Moon Bay (and, I could add, in Monterey Park, California where the shooter was a naturalized U.S. citizen) does not seem to me to be part of the story.
What about the fact that both the Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park murderers were Asian men?
The fact that they were men almost goes without saying. The vast majority of mass shooters are men, as are mass murderers more generally.
What about the fact that they were both Asian? This, I think, is more interesting. We know that Asians are about 6% of the U.S. population but commit disproportionately fewer murders. In 2019, for example, only 1.0% of those charged with murder or nonnegligent manslaughter in the U.S. were Asian.
But study after study shows that the proportion of MASS murderers who are Asian is closer to their share of the U.S. population, and perhaps even greater than their share. That is, Asians may be overrepresented among “mass shooters” and “mass murderers” in the U.S. This holds across datasets that cover different time periods and have different definitions of “mass shooting” or “mass murder.”
The table above appears in “US Mass public shootings since Columbine: victims per incident by race and ethnicity of the perpetrator” (Preventative Medicine).
9 percent of mass public shooters in The Violence Project database for 1999-2021 are Asian, more than we would expect based on their population proportion, and much more than we would expect based on the overall Asian murder rate.
The table above, produced by Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy, uses the Mother Jones magazine database of 121 mass shootings from 1982 to 2021. He also finds Asian mass shooters to be overrepresented relative to their population proportion.
Using a database of 308 mass murders from 2006-2014, criminologist Adam Lankford again finds the proportion of mass murderers who are Asian to be close to their population proportion, or perhaps slightly overrepresented at 6.3%. Notably, Lankford highlights that Asians are significantly overrepresented among mass murders compared to their proportion of everyday murders (1.5%, z = 6.00***).
Of course, not all mass murders are the same. Indeed, one prominent definition of “mass shooting” highlights their commission in public places (hence “mass public shooting”) and excludes those committed in the context of robbery, gang violence, or conventionally motivated crime (used by Mother Jones magazine and The Violence Project).
This is significant because, as Adam Lankford shows, there are racial differences in mass murder by attack type. Asians (and Whites) disproportionately commit family and public killings, while Black and Latino mass murders are more likely to be in the context of robbery/burglary.
The table above also highlights two other significant findings concerning Asian mass murder. First, Asian mass murders have the highest average body count (6.88, F = 4.57***). Second, Asian mass murderers are most likely to be killed (i.e., commit suicide either directly or by cop) in the commission of their crime (63% vs. 44% for Whites, 38% for Latinos, and 15% for Blacks).
These additional facts highlight the need for nuance in understanding mass murder cross-racially, a nuance that Randy Miyan and I try to emphasize in these podcast episodes.
Even as we try to find patterns and explanations, it’s also important to recognize that Asian mass murder is extremely uncommon. The Preventative Medicine study mentioned above includes 9 total cases of Asian mass shooters over a 22-year period (0.4 cases per year using The Violence Project data). Eugene Volokh’s analysis includes 8 total cases over a 40-year period (0.2 cases per year using Mother Jones data). And Adam Lankford’s data includes 15 total cases of Asian mass murderers in an 8-year period (1.875 cases per year).
As you may have mentioned in the past, it is important to be careful making generalizations based on small groups. One incident can dramatically affect the percentages. This is especially important when considering events that are rare to begin with, such as the various types of mass murders.
Has anyone ever seen a credible study finding people on the autism spectrum are more likely to be involved with ‘high death toll’ shootings or not? I have people say both “yes” and “no” but never any good studies.
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I do not know of any such studies. There was a time when people tried to point to SSRI medications. I think the problem is similar to looking at it as a “gun problem.” Of all the people who FILL IN THE BLANK (own guns, are on the spectrum, take SSRIs, etc.), almost none of them engage in this behavior.
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To me there is no question people on the spectrum are highly unlikely to be violent. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27185105/ is an example of one study. It says ” This exercise tentatively suggests evidence of ASD in six of 75 included cases (8%) which is about eight times higher when compared to the prevalence of ASD found in the general population worldwide (motherjones.com). The 8% figure for individuals with ASD involved mass killings is a conservative estimate.” This is the sort of thing the original post reminded me of and I am not sure of what to make of it. Bruce Pankratz
The Violence Project DB records 11 of 188 perps (6%) ‘on the Autism Spectrum.’ CDC estimates 3% of children have ASD. If autism is an indicator, it’s a weak one.
In contrast, 42 (22%) were on sundry heavy meds, including 20 on SSRIs or other serotonin modulators, 6 on benzos, 5 antidepressant, 5 antipsychotic (some overlap.)
It’d be specious to argue that SSRIs cause individuals to commit mass shootings. Still, the prevalence of these Rx does imply they are a strong indicator. What it definitely shows is that these 42 individuals all had serious mental health issues, yet the system somehow still allowed them access to firearms.
Another concern with SSRIs in particular is, while they are often Rx for suicidal ideation, the risk of suicide actually increases shortly after their introduction. The patient is still suicidal, but suddenly has newfound energy & motivation. Too often, SSRIs are carelessly Rx on & off for a given patient. IIRC, this was the case with Dylann Roof.
“But according to a scholar from the (libertarian not librul) CATO Institute, illegal immigrants (in Texas) have a 45% lower criminal conviction rate than native-born American citizens and legal immigrants have a 62% lower rate. This holds across all types of crime from violent to property-related.”
Setting aside the difficulty of determining how many illegal immigrants there actually are in the country to create any sort of actual rate of criminal violators versus non-criminal within the class, and the concomitant difficulty of investigating crimes involving illegal immigrants who, by definition, are not necessarily trackable through the normal channels of _legal_ identification, employment, car, and housing ownership/rental, this elides the fact that crime, particularly violent crime, is not evenly distributed among “native-born American citizens.” If we are going to break out demographic classifications for a given subset of violent crime like mass killings, then we either need to not do the immigration generalization at all, or we need to do it with the same break out.
Violent criminals in particular are a small subset of any given population, open immigration libertarians have a “Reason” to present statistics in a way which diminishes an argument with which they disagree.
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This seems to be a case of ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics.’ Other analyses find that illegal immigrants actually commit crimes at a much higher rate than average. There’s also the argument that every illegal immigrant has committed at least one crime.
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