The Newtown massacre has shocked the nation. In Washington, President Obama wiped away tears as he declared, “Our hearts are broken.” Connecticut Governor Dannel Molloy compared the day to 9/11. Meanwhile, millions of Americans turned to the wall-to-wall news coverage, stunned by the murder of kindergarteners.
As heartbreaking as the Newtown story is, it is going to get worse. In the next few days, we’ll likely see the faces of the slain kids on TV and in the papers. This coming week will be filled with funerals for young children. Among the dead are a six-year-old girl of Puerto Rican heritage, as well as a heroic Latina teacher who was shot while trying to protect her class.
Unfortunately, we’ve been here before. Typically in the aftermath of a mass shooting, there are stirrings of a debate over gun control. We’ve had one here, pro and con, on NBC Latino. Then lawmakers do nothing, until the next shooting spree, when we repeat the cycle of horror, grief, outrage – and inaction.
On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stated that while there is a day for review of gun control policy, “today is not that day.” I respectfully say, “Yes, it is.” America is ready for this discussion. Even members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) favor stricter gun laws. Let’s start the conversation and spur our leaders to action before another tragedy occurs.
More than any other demographic group, Latinos favor stricter gun control laws. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, only 29 percent of Hispanics say the right to own guns is more important than gun control. This may be because Latinos are less likely to own guns. Although statistics on Latinos and gun ownership are hard to come by, in 2001 the Violence Policy Center reported that only 11 percent of Hispanics owned guns.
Latinos are certainly not immune to gun violence. Last week, the four-year-old son of Jose Luis Nunez found a loaded handgun in this father’s bureau and shot himself in the face. (He remains in critical condition at a Houston hospital.) And considering that Hispanics are one-fourth of public school students, we should be deeply concerned with school shootings. Latino children are already a majority of the kids in public schools in Texas and California, so maybe Friday’s horror will serve as wake-up call to Hispanic parents that senseless gun violence can happen anywhere. In Arizona, Latina activist Dee Dee Garcia Blase has called for school “shooting drills,” like fire drills, to protect children. Sadly, she may have the right idea.
Gun control opponents maintain that guns don’t kill people, people do. They are mistaken. Consider that on the same day of the Newtown tragedy, a deranged man with a knife attacked children outside a primary school in China. Twenty-two kids were injured – yet none died.
Surprisingly, members of the NRA support stricter gun laws. A poll by the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that 74 percent of NRA members support criminal background checks on anyone buying a gun. Seventy-one percent favor prohibiting people who are on the terrorist watch list from acquiring guns. Neither of these provisions is law today, yet both should be.
NRA members are not the problem here; it is the NRA leadership. NRA leaders insist that either we have our right to bear arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment, or we have gun control. The choice should not be an either/or provision. We can have both the freedom to own firearms and sensible gun laws. President Obama has stated that we need to act on gun control, “regardless of the politics.” While he’s right, talk is cheap. He should claim the leadership role on this issue, and send a bill to Congress that reinstates the assault weapons ban.
With Newtown, we have reached the tipping point. We must reclaim our right to live in a civilized society – and that must begin with reforming our gun laws.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.