It was only last week that senators agreed on a bipartisan framework for gun safety. Republicans and Democrats have come together to support a narrow set of reforms, including enhanced background checks for gun buyers under 21, funding for mental health resources and provisions to help states creating red flag laws (aiming to keep guns out of the hands of those deemed a danger to themselves or others).
While the fate of the bill seemed unclear, it cleared a procedural hurdle yesterday with 14 Republican votes.
There is no doubt that Latinos need gun reform measures.
Latin American communities know all too well the horror and trauma of gun violence, and we are uniquely positioned to play a role in this debate. The majority of Latinos favor increased regulation of gun safety, and such measures are supported by Latino civic and advocacy groups. To continue to thrive as the nation’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 at a Wal-Mart in El Paso. In 2016, most of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, were Latinos. In 2020, a gunman targeted a Latina federal judge, killing her son and injuring her husband.
As if these incidents weren’t gruesome enough, consider statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, analyzed by the group Everytown for Gun Safety. Each year, more than 4,100 Latinos die from gun violence in the United States, an average of 11 per day, while 13,300 Latinos are injured by gunshots each year. Latino children and teens are three times more likely to be killed by gun than their white peers. In short, our communities are disproportionately affected by our country’s lack of common sense measures when it comes to guns.
That’s why most Latinos are willing to change our gun laws. A June Quinnipiac survey found that 58% of Latinos support stricter gun laws, while 96% of Latinos favor background checks on all gun buyers. The Pew Research Center reported last year that 81% of Latinos say gun violence is a big problem. Latinos reject empty sentiment of ‘thoughts and prayers’ for victims of gun violence; instead, our communities say “enough is enough”.
Recognizing this, leading Latino civic and advocacy groups have called on Congress to pass gun safety legislation. Groups like UnidosUS, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), and the Hispanic Federation demanded action from lawmakers in the wake of the Uvalde tragedy. . These groups understand the impact of gun violence on Latin American families and communities. As a statement from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus noted, “To our colleagues against common sense gun violence prevention reform, how many more lives until you act?”
To be sure, not all Latinos are in favor of tougher gun laws. In 2020, CNN reported that some Latinos were buying guns to feel safer, and the gun industry was selling to Latinos, highlighting the defensive use of guns. 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 enforce the Second Amendment as well as the militia regulations mentioned in the amendment. An individual’s constitutional right to bear arms must be balanced against the need for public safety.
If there are any objections to the Senate gun safety bill, they should focus on what the bill does not include: there is no provision for extensive background checks for all gun buyers, or to prohibit the possession of military-style assault weapons. To counter pro-gun messages from the GOP and make these reforms possible, Democrats must commit to greater gun safety education for Latinos.
We know Congress can act quickly whenever it wants. On Thursday, President Biden signed a bill that strengthens protections for Supreme Court justices and their families. Don’t children deserve protection too, so they – and the nation – don’t have to fear another school shooting?
For too long, Latinos and other Americans have been harmed by the epidemic of gun violence in our country. If the current attempt to pass gun safety legislation passes, it deserves to be seen as a first step toward solving an American public health crisis.
Raul Reyes is an immigration attorney and a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he also contributes to NBCNews.com and CNN reviews. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaulAReyesInstagram: raulareyes1.