Just days after eight people, including six Asian American women, were gunned down during a mass shooting, gun lobby organizations pivoted on social media to promoting increased gun ownership as the solution for vulnerable communities.
On March 16, a gunman opened fire in three different Atlanta-area spas. The suspect, who had reportedly visited two of the spas prior to the shooting, legally bought a firearm less than an hour before he allegedly carried out the massacre. The gunman was apprehended by police, who uncritically repeated his claims that the shooting was not racially motivated but was meant to eliminate temptation because he had an alleged sex addiction.
Two days later, on March 18, the National Rifle Association shared a Forbes article on Twitter about the supposed number of Asian Americans buying guns as hate crimes spike. (Because there is no national database of firearms purchases, the article mainly relies on anecdotal evidence from gun stores.)
The following day, pro-gun organization Gun Owners of America tweeted that Asian Americans should “buy a rifle” if they want to stop hate crimes.
While encouraging self-defense in the face of rising racially motivated violence is understandable, indiscriminately insisting more guns is the solution has deadly, usually unintended consequences and avoids the real issues inherent in the racist rhetoric that gun lobby organizations promote.
From 2019-2020, the U.S. saw a stunning increase of nearly 150% in hate crimes against Asian Americans, undoubtedly due in part to racist rhetoric around COVID-19. A “Stop Asian Hate” campaign has emerged to bring attention to the violence.
The NRA is one of the louder voices contributing to the rhetoric that can inspire these hate crimes. Multiple NRA board members have used social media to spread conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, referred to it as the “Wuhan virus,” blamed China “for their attack on the rest of us,” and called Asian culture in general “evil.”
Gun lobby groups also regularly promote the misinformation that the solution to gun violence is more guns for self-defense. The Pew Research Center says about 48% of gun owners cite self-defense as the reason for their gun ownership, but according to a Harvard University analysis, people defended themselves with guns in 0.9% of contact crimes from 2007-2011. The same study also found that so-called defensive gun usage is not actually more effective than other means of defense; you are no less likely to be injured when defending yourself with a gun than with other means. A gun is, however, 34 times more likely to be used in a homicide than in self-defense, and states with higher rates of gun ownership also have higher rates of accidental gun death.