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In 2016, gun policy an important Latino voter issue

Polls show that a majority of Hispanics favor gun-control measures.
27 Jul 2016 – 05:19 PM EDT
Almost 70% of Latinos consider gun policy a "very important" issue in the 2016 election. Crédito: Getty Images

Sandy Hook changed everything for Luisa Caro, a Colombian-American litigator and a mother of two. She'd never been an advocate before, but starting in early 2013 she began spending her precious free time as a volunteer with the Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Learning about gun legislation was something of an awakening. "The more you learn about it, the more outrageous it is that for so many years things have flown under the radar and nobody's paying enough attention to it," she told Univision News.

Gun control is again part of the national conversation in the wake of multiple mass shootings. A July Pew Research Center poll found that 69% of Latino registered voters consider gun policy a "very important" issue in the 2016 election.

Released Wednesday, a Latino Victory Project and Latino Decisions survey of Hispanic registered voters in 12 battleground states found that a majority support gun control measures. Almost 60% think Congress should consider new laws restricting gun ownership, and 95% approve of background checks. About two-thirds think there should be a ban on assault-weapon sales and that the country won't be safer if more people own and carry guns.

Caro said many people she's spoken to see a need to change gun legislation, even her young daughter. She once brought the now 11-year-old to the Virginia state assembly, where it's legal to walk in with a firearm. The mother and daughter had brought American flags, and security wouldn't let them in until they removed the small sticks attached to the flags. "My daughter said 'This is crazy,'" said Caro. "There's just some things no matter how old you are, you look at and you say 'This doesn't make any sense.'"

The Orlando tragedy, in which a majority of victims were Latino, spurred some Hispanic celebrities to call for greater gun restrictions. "How many more lives need to be lost before we do something about lax gun laws?" wrote singer Ricky Martin in a bilingual Univision op-ed. "I ask you to BREAK YOUR SILENCE and call each and every one of your congressman ... 10 times each day until they act." Lin-Manuel Miranda and Selena Gomez were among 200 musicians who signed an open letter demanding Congress take action on gun control after the massacre.

"Violence in general is an important issue that impacts the Latino community," said Stephen A. Nuño, associate professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University. "Because of that [Hispanics] generally support policies that can reduce that violence, and guns are one of those policies. It's an issue that they're faced with on a daily basis."

From 1999 through 2014, more than 50,000 U.S. Hispanics were killed with guns, and two-thirds of those deaths were homicides, a June study by the Violence Policy Center found. The homicide victimization rate for Latinos is almost double that of whites, and homicide is the second leading cause of death for Hispanics ages 15 to 24, according to the study.

While Latinos are more likely to be killed by guns than whites, they're less likely than whites to own guns. Two in 10 Hispanic households own guns, versus four in 10 white households, according to a 2014 Pew study.

But not all Hispanics are in favor of more gun regulations. Pew found that 40% of U.S.-born Latinos favor gun ownership rights over gun control, and about 42% of Hispanic voters oppose a semi-automatic weapon ban, according to a 2013 Latino Decisions survey.

"Don't take for granted the right you have right now because once those rights are taken away, they are not coming back," said Gabby Franco, a Venezuelan-American firearms instructor and news commentator for the NRA based in Dallas, Texas. She's a competitive shooter and a former member of the Venezuelan Olympic shooting team who's won a dozen international shooting titles.

The issue is personal: some of Franco's family members in Venezuela have been kidnapped or even killed. "Pretty much every Venezuelan - and I'm not exaggerating - knows someone who has been robbed, kidnapped or shot at," she said. "It's always the fear of knowing that the people that you love are in a country where they cannot protect themselves effectively."

In the United States, having the freedom to own a gun for protection is something Latinos shouldn't take for granted, Franco said, given that in some Latin American countries, gun laws are very strict. "Those are things that are privileges in our countries, privileges to people who have money," she said. "Here that is a right. And that's a right we need to protect."