Nehemiah Griego, a 15-year-old, shot his family with his parents’ assault rifle, as the country wrestles with the gun control debate. (Photo/AP Images )

Recent shootings prompt Latinos to debate gun control

A fifteen-year-old New Mexico Latino  teen who later told police he had homicidal and suicidal thoughts grabbed his parents’ assault rifle from their closet and killed his mother, a brother and two sisters under the age of 9, before waiting several hours and then killing his father.  Like in the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting, the New Mexico teen, Nehemiah Griego, had no history of violence.  And like Newtown, Connecticut school shooter Adam Lanza,  Nehemiah Griego simply took his parents’ AR-15 assault rifle to kill his own family members.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” said Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston at a press conference following the New Mexico shooting.  Griego’s father, a fire department chaplain and former pastor, was well-known and loved in his community.

But legislators and activists who support a ban on military-style assault rifles like the one used by 15-year-old Griego say these incidents are not uncommon, for a simple reason.

“The risks from military-style semiautomatic firearms have been proven again and again to outweigh their benefits as toys, tools or trophies to a minority who own them,” said Tom Diaz, the author of the upcoming book “The Last Gun: Changes in the Gun Industry Are Killing Americans and What It Will Take to Stop It.”

“If every AR and AK in the world disappeared tomorrow, there would be lots of much less dangerous guns left for people to do the things you cite,” added Diaz in a recent interview with the Dallas Morning News.

Polls have shown that a majority of Latinos support gun control legislation.  According a Pew Research poll, only 29 percent of Latinos think gun rights are more important than gun control.  Another poll found 69 percent of Latinos believe in stronger laws regarding the sale of guns, and nearly nine in ten – 86 percent – believe all gun buyers should have to pass a criminal background check.

“In the United States, a child or teen is killed by a firearm every three hours, and every 14 hours one of those youth is Latino,” said a statement released by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), who has come out in favor of President Obama‘s recent announcement of executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence, as well as his call for Congress to pass a military assault-weapons ban as well as a universal background check for any gun buyer.

“We praise the president’s swift, thoughtful action as well as his challenge to Congress to enact new measures and broaden this long-overdue national conversation,” said NCLR’s CEO and president, Janet Murguía. “In addition, we praise his approach that looks more broadly at how gun violence impacts communities of color, including the Latino community,” Murguia added.

While the majority of Latinos and the non-Latino general public might favor some gun control legislation, Congress is still divided, primarily along partisan lines. One example is within the state of Texas. On the Republican side, recently elected Texas Latino Senator Ted Cruz said he is vigorously opposed to Obama’s proposals.   “You know, there actually isn’t the so-called ‘gun show loophole’ — that doesn’t exist,” said Cruz, adding, “any licensed firearm dealer who sells at a gun show has to have a background check.”

Cruz also disputed President Obama’s statements that 40 percent of gun sales take place without a background check.  Cruz said in a radio interview that President Obama is  “exploiting the murder of children and using it to push his own extreme anti-gun agenda,” and has said the gun control measures are unconstitutional and against the Second Amendment.

In an interview with MSNBC, Texas Democratic Mayor Julián Castro, who advocates for gun control legislation, disputed what he calls the “slippery slope” argument advocated by conservative legislators like Cruz and the NRA. The NRA argues that more gun control restrictions can lead to taking away an individual’s rights to bear arms. Castro said that “paranoia” from the NRA is being countered by those who favor “reasonable gun control restrictions” through a relatively new tool — social media.

“What I think is different now is the opportunity to penetrate that culture and get a message out there in a way that is authentic and from the people,” said Castro, who accused his fellow Democrats of having let gun control arguments “atrophy” for many years.  “What you’re going to see is a shifting of public opinion,” said Castro, even in regions with a history of gun ownership. Democrats hope to pass some form of gun legislation in Congress; Republicans are not so sure.

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