Op-ed: Addressing gun violence and mental health in the AAPI community
Rep. Ro Khanna and Assemblymember Evan Low represent Silicon Valley residents. Photo courtesy of Khanna's office.

America is afraid, and so are we.

In the United States, some of our most vulnerable minority groups are being targeted by politicians and public figures who crave power. This power struggle has created an environment where harmful narratives and hateful rhetoric are becoming more common.

As two Asian American lawmakers, we cannot stand by and watch who we are as people be attacked. The people we were elected to represent are seeing these attacks play out in real time. Some are robbed. Some are beaten in the streets. Others are shot and killed at work.

People are afraid, concerned and anxious about being Asian American in the U.S. It's a fear that has been building over the last few years, with public officials stoking racial discrimination and causing a rise in anti-Asian violence and hateful rhetoric.

In 2020, anti-Asian violence rose by 150% in the United States. Unfortunately, while the number of daily COVID-19 cases is dropping, the rise in violence has continued—and today, the violence in question more frequently involves firearms.

A shooting at a spa outside of Atlanta in 2021 led to the death of eight people, including six Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women. In just the first 100 days of this year, America suffered 150 mass shootings, which included back-to-back shootings at a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park and a farm in Half Moon Bay.

AAPI communities in California and across the country have felt the trauma and pain of these tragedies. These are just a few examples of the intersection between our country’s rise in anti-AAPI sentiments and our failure to regulate guns.

Some of our elected officials are failing the people they were elected to represent. The same voters who elected these officials are now being gunned down in bars, banks, schools and churches. We are failing our communities by not acting.

On top of these failures, we’re facing a related crisis in mental health. Firearm suicide for AAPI youth has increased by 188% over the past decade—the largest increase for any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. AAPI communities have a 17.3% rate of developing a mental illness, but are three times less likely to seek treatment.

We also can’t ignore the impact of consuming constant news and social media about gun violence on the mental health of our communities, especially for young people. According to a report from the American Psychological Association, 75% of Gen Z Americans say mass shootings are a significant source of stress. While it’s important to stay informed and for the media to bring attention to this crisis, the never-ending news cycle has exacerbated the traumatic effects of these events.

For our AAPI communities, the mental health crisis, increase in gun violence and harmful rhetoric are interconnected. It’s not enough to condemn the violent attacks against our communities. Tackling the converging crises of gun violence, increasing anti-AAPI sentiments and the impact on mental health will require strong legislation at the state and federal level.

California has the most gun laws of any state in America—including bans on assault weapons and sales to those who are deemed a threat to themselves or others. But the tragedies in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay make clear that state laws alone are not enough. At the federal level, Congress needs to pass a ban on assault weapons, along with universal background checks.

Congress should also invest in mental health resources that specifically address the rise in anti-AAPI attacks and gun violence. This should include campaigns to change the stigma around seeking mental treatment within the AAPI community and providing culturally competent care.

At a town hall in Milpitas earlier this year, we heard from families and leaders of mental health nonprofits about the need to come together to support each other. Constituents called for more resources for AAPI youth and help to address the stigma that still prevents many from seeking care. We also heard calls for the AAPI community to be more active on gun reform and tackling gun violence at the local level.

Our offices have also received calls and letters echoing these urges for tougher action on gun control. It was powerful to see members of the AAPI community coming together to address the challenges they face with the rise in gun violence and mental health struggles.

As we saw at the town hall earlier this year, it's critical as lawmakers that we create a space for the AAPI community to come together to share their experiences and perspectives about the challenges that have only increased in recent years.

We will continue to have these discussions and listen to the AAPI community about the resources we need to provide to address these unique challenges.

Rep. Ro Khanna represents California's 17th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Assemblymember Evan Low represents the 26th Assembly District in the state Legislature.

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