OPINION

Opinion: It is time for Latinos to have a voice in the debate over gun reform

(Guns/Getty Images)

(Guns/Getty Images)

The grief is “beyond description.” That’s how President Obama characterized the feelings of the family members of the victims of Orlando’s massacre. On Thursday, the president was in Florida, where he laid 49 roses – one for each of the victims of the attack on the Pulse nightclub – at a makeshift memorial. After meeting with the families of the victims, Obama said, "These families could be our families. In fact, they are our families — they're part of the American family... our hearts are broken too."

Even National Rifle Association members agree that we can respect the Second Amendment and make it harder for disturbed individuals or potential domestic terrorists to obtain guns. Given that 90 percent of the victims in Orlando were Latino, that seems the least we can do to honor their memory.

- Raul A. Reyes

As the nation still reels from the mass shooting, it is time for Latinos to have a voice in the debate over gun reform. Even before Orlando, Hispanics were supportive of greater limits on firearms — and now we have 49 more reasons to demand changes in our lax gun laws.

For Latinos, gun control is a matter of common sense, because our communities are sadly well-acquainted with gun violence. Between 1999 and 2013, the Violence Policy Center reports, over 47,000 Latinos were killed by guns, including 31,000 gun homicide victims and 13,000 gun suicides. Nearly 3,000 Hispanics were killed by guns in 2013 alone.

No wonder that clear majorities of Hispanic voters favor restrictions on gun ownership. According to Latino Decisions, 84 percent of Latino voters support background checks for people before they can buy guns at stores or gun shows. Sixty-nine percent of Latino voters support a national database of gun owners, and 62 percent want limits on high-capacity magazines. The Pew Center found that Latino registered voters say that gun control is more important than the rights of gun owners. 

Like other Americans, Latinos have recoiled from the horror of mass shootings in Aurora, Newtown, and San Bernardino. We have seen the toll that these attacks have taken on our communities, and experienced the collective loss of security. Yet our country hasn’t taken meaningful action on gun control. Why not? Because conservative lawmakers refuse to acknowledge the root of our mass shooting problem – the easy availability of guns in the U.S.

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Florida Governor Rick Scott blamed the carnage at Pulse on ISIS. "We all can agree we don't want somebody that is going to do something like that to be walking around with any weapons, but the Second Amendment didn't kill anybody," Scott told CNN. "This is ISIS. This is evil. This is radical Islam… We're not focused enough on ISIS."  But the FBI says that there is no direct link between the shooter and any terrorist network. If Governor Scott doesn’t want somebody like the shooter to be “walking around with any weapons,” he should support measures to make it impossible for people to obtain semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.

These weapons are not used for hunting or self-defense. They are designed for war, and do not belong on our streets or in our communities. As an editorial in the Orlando Sun Sentinel noted, “Federal measures targeting guns and ammo designed to kill enemy soldiers on the battlefield wouldn't seriously compromise any civilian's right to self defense.”

Opponents of gun control also frequently point out that background checks or limits on illegal gun purchases would not have stopped a particular mass shooting; the Orlando gunman purchased his gun legally and passed at least two background checks. Yet background checks, limits on gun ownership, and other measures can make it less likely that such incidents occur. That alone makes such measures worth fighting for, and we need to hold our lawmakers accountable for doing so.  

True, the Second Amendment of the Constitution reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  The key term here is “well-regulated.”  The right to bear arms must be regulated, just as our other constitutional rights are. In fact, the Supreme Court noted in Heller vs. D.C. (2008) that, “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”    

Consider that a person cannot yell “Fire!” in a movie theater (a limit on freedom of speech), or disobey the police at a public rally (a limit on the right of assembly). So regulations on gun ownership are as reasonable as they are necessary. Even National Rifle Association members agree that we can respect the Second Amendment and make it harder for disturbed individuals or potential domestic terrorists to obtain guns. Given that 90 percent of the victims in Orlando were Latino, that seems the least we can do to honor their memory.

Over the past week the Latino community has come together in shock and grief over the Orlando massacre. Now we must move forward with action — and demand gun reform from our lawmakers.

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.

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