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Why Latinos need sensible gun safety legislation

The Hill logo The Hill 6/22/2022 Raul Reyes, opinion contributor
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It was just last week that senators agreed on a bipartisan framework for gun safety. Republicans and Democrats came together to support a narrow series of reforms including enhanced background checks for gun buyers under age 21, funding for mental health resources, and provisions to help states create red-flag laws (aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those who are deemed a danger to themselves or others).

While the fate of the bill seemed unclear, it passed a procedural hurdle yesterday with 14 Republican votes.

There is no doubt that Latinos need gun reform measures.

Latino communities know too well the horror and trauma of gun violence, and we are uniquely positioned to play a role in this debate. Majorities of Latinos favor increased gun safety regulations, and such measures are supported by Latino civic and advocacy groups. To continue to thrive as the country’s largest racial/ethnic minority group, Latinos need meaningful gun safety reform.  

Collectively and individually, Latinos have been subjected to gun violence. The school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, took place in a predominantly Mexican American town. In 2019, a white supremacist concerned about what he saw as the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” carried out the massacre in an El Paso Wal-Mart. In 2016, most of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., were Latino. In 2020, a gunman targeted a Latina federal judge, killing her son and wounding her husband.  

As if these incidents were not horrifying enough, consider the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as analyzed by the group Everytown for Gun Safety. Each year, over 4,100 Latinos die from gun violence in the U.S., an average of 11 per day, while 13,300 Latinos are shot and wounded annually. Latino children and teens are three times more likely to be killed by gun homicide than their white peers. In short, our communities are disproportionately affected by our nation’s lack of common-sense gun measures. 


Video: Lawmakers across the aisle push for gun control (ABC News)

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That’s why most Latinos are ready to change our gun laws. A June Quinnipiac survey found that 58 percent of Latinos support stricter gun laws, while 96 percent of Latinos favor requiring background checks for all gun buyers. The Pew Research Center reported last year that 81 percent of Latinos say that gun violence is a big problem. Latinos are rejecting the empty sentiment of “thoughts and prayers” for victims of gun violence; instead, our communities are saying “Enough is enough.” 

Recognizing this, leading Latino civic and advocacy groups have called for Congress to pass gun safety legislation. Groups like UnidosUS, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the Hispanic Federation have demanded action from lawmakers in the wake of the Uvalde tragedy. These groups understand the toll that gun violence has taken on Latino families and communities. As a statement by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus noted, “To our colleagues against common sense gun violence prevention reform, how many more lives until you act?” 

True, not all Latinos favor tightening our gun laws. In 2020, CNN reported that some Latinos were buying guns to feel safer, and the gun industry has been marketing to Latinos, stressing the defensive use of firearms. But the Violence Policy Center reports that having a gun in the home is actually more likely to lead to homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings. And lawmakers can uphold the Second Amendment as well as the regulation of the militia that is mentioned in the amendment. An individual’s constitutional right to bear arms must be balanced with the public’s need for safety. 

If there are objections to the Senate gun safety bill, they should be over what the bill does not include: There are no provisions for expanded background checks for all gun buyers, or for banning possession of a military-style assault weapons. To counter the GOP’s pro-gun messaging and make these reforms possible, Democrats need to engage in more outreach on gun safety geared towards Latinos. 

We know that Congress can act quickly when it wants to. On Thursday, President Biden signed a bill into law that bolsters protection for Supreme Court justices and their families. Don’t children deserve protection too, so that they — and the nation — don’t have to dread another school shooting? 

For too long, Latinos and other Americans have been harmed by our country’s epidemic of gun violence. If the current attempt at passing gun safety legislation passes, it deserves to be seen as a first step towards addressing an American public health crisis.

Raul Reyes is an immigration attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he is also a contributor to NBCNews.com and CNN Opinion. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaulAReyes, Instagram: raulareyes1.

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