As Gun Control Debate Grows, Latinos Largely Favor Reform

By Rachel Glickhouse

Polls show that Hispanics favor stricter gun control laws. Could this voting bloc’s growing clout sway legislators as Congress prepares to debate gun control?

Though imminent immigration reform could propel Latinos to the forefront of the U.S. legislative agenda, gun control is also a key political issue for the United States’ largest minority group. After nearly three-quarters of Hispanic voters cast ballots for President Barack Obama, both political parties will likely seek to court this electoral bloc. Could a shift in gun legislation also be in the cards as part of an appeal to Hispanics as Congress prepares to debate gun control?

Polls show that Latinos tend to favor gun control more than other groups. An April 2012 Pew Research Center survey found that only 29 percent of Latinos believe it is more important to protect gun ownership rights than to implement gun control. That figure comes in significantly lower than for other demographic groups: 57 percent of Caucasians and 35 percent of African Americans favor gun ownership over gun control.

In fact, a majority of Latinos support increasing gun control. A November 2011 poll by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that 69 percent of Hispanic voters support stricter laws on gun sales. An overwhelming number—86 percent—favor criminal background checks for gun sales as well. The poll found a majority of Latinos back an Obama administration policy to require gun dealers in Southwest border states to report more than one semi-automatic gun sales or attempted purchases within a five-day period. The survey showed Latino Republican support for greater gun control, too; over 70 percent of Hispanic GOP voters said they oppose a proposal to allow legal gun owners to carry loaded weapons in other states, regardless of each state’s gun laws.

Given Latino perspectives on gun control, Congress’ approach to the issue could prove important to connecting to Hispanic voters, say some observers. “Latinos have an opportunity to use their newly found political clout to call upon their leaders and members of Congress to enact stricter gun-control legislation, starting with renewing the ban on assault weapons,” Latino Leaders Network founder Micky Ibarra writes for Roll Call. Gun control legislation could also be an opportunity for Republicans to gain Latino support. “Appealing to this constituency is going to require the GOP to do more than provide undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship,” writes gun-law expert Adam Winkler for The Daily Beast. “Republicans must show they support a variety of issues important to the Latino community.” However, some Latinos favor a right to bear arms. Raul Mas Canosa, a Cuban-American political commentator, wrote in a Fox News Latino op-ed that Hispanics should value the right to use guns since “many of us come from countries where only the police, the military, and the criminal element have access to firearms.” In immigrating to the United States, he said, “[Latinos] sought to control our destiny and not have others control it for us.”

In other gun-control news in the Americas:

  • In an article for PODER, COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth explores the illegal flow of guns from the United States to Mexico in the context of Washington's current gun control debate.
  • AS/COA Online looks at gun laws in Latin America’s six largest economies. In Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela, gun control legislation tends to be strict.
  • A study released this month by Peru’s Pontifical Catholic University found that the legal Peruvian gun trade has fed the black market with weapons. Over the past 25 years, Peru’s government gave out over 300,000 gun licenses, though only half of the guns for these permits were registered. Around 150,000 in Peru guns are unaccounted for, the study estimated.
  • Brazil’s armed forces issued a new rule on off-duty weapons use for military police, civil police, and firemen. The new policy—originally issued in December and published in the Brazilian press this week—gives these groups access to a .45 caliber pistol while off-duty. Previously, these groups could buy and carry a .40 caliber gun for personal use, and only federal policemen could use .45 caliber guns while off-duty.