Texas school shooting highlights concerns from Latino anti-gun violence advocates

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(UVALDE, Texas) — The list of mass shootings in Texas in recent years goes on and on. Uvalde. El Paso. Santa Fe. Sutherland Springs.

Latino anti-gun violence advocates in Texas say they are exhausted following the most recent school shooting in Uvalde. They have been continuously advocating against Gov. Greg Abbott’s gun laws with each new incident, they say.

“We don’t just want thoughts and prayers. We want legislators to take action and for them to say enough is enough,” said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of activist group Fiel Houston, who said he will be protesting the National Rifle Association conference in Houston this week.

Abbott said he will attend the conference virtually.

“He can’t have it both ways — he can’t condemn the tragedy and at the same time, celebrate the culture that makes these tragedies possible,” Espinosa said. “We don’t want to be sitting here a few months a few years from now, talking about another tragedy.”

Three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history have been in Texas, each occurring in regions with large Hispanic populations.

“We have the most permissible gun laws in the country,” said Rochelle Garza, a former ACLU lawyer who is running for attorney general in Texas. “These policies that we’ve got are failing our communities, are failing our people and the leadership that we have right now is not doing anything about it.”

Still, in recent years, Abbott has signed a series of bills into law that make purchasing a firearm easier. He argues that each law strengthened the Second Amendment.

“Politicians from the federal level to the local level have threatened to take guns from law-abiding citizens — but we will not let that happen in Texas,” Abbott said in a statement last year.

In 2021, Abbott made it legal for “law-abiding Texans” to carry handguns without a license or training and also loosened restrictions on handguns based on age.

It made it possible for 18-year-olds to receive a license to carry a handgun if they meet requirements other than age.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Abbott rejected the notion that guns were the main cause of the recent shootings, pointing to a lack of mental health support instead.

“We as a state, we as a society need to do a better job with mental health,” Abbott said. “Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge. Period. We as a government need to find a way to target that mental health challenge and to do something about it.”

But gun reform advocates say the state’s lax gun laws have furthered the harm done to their communities.

“We don’t want to be sitting here a few months or a few years from now, talking about another tragedy,” Espinosa said. “We want to make sure that we not only talk about it, but we do something about it to make sure that gun safety is a top priority in this nation.”

Latinos in favor of gun reform are calling for “universal background checks, closing related loopholes, and a ban on assault weapons,” said Janet Murguía, the president and CEO of Latino civil rights organization UnidosUS.

They say gun reform is a key part of racial and social justice.

Hispanics are disproportionately affected by firearms violence in the United States, according to the research organization Violence Policy Center (VPC).

“As long as assault-type weapons remain too easily accessible, more communities will be broken and devastated by mass shootings,” Lourdes M. Rosado, president of civil rights group LatinoJustice PRLDEF, said in a statement.

Nearly 70,000 Hispanics were killed by guns between 1999 and 2019, the organization found, including 44,614 gun homicide victims and 21,466 gun suicides.

Nearly three-quarters of Hispanic murder victims are killed with guns, VPC research shows.

The Harris County Democratic Party has called for Abbott to schedule a special legislative session to address the state’s lack of gun restrictions following the Uvalde shooting.

“Latinx, Black, and nonwhite communities will continue to be disproportionately impacted,” Rosado said. “We call on lawmakers to move without hesitation to strengthen federal and local gun controls once and for all, and for lobbying reforms that can curtail the outsize influence of the gun lobby.”

However, there are many Latinos who own guns– some of whom have become gun owners in recent years.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms industry, says that when comparing 2019 to 2020, there was a 58.2% increase in gun purchases among Black people, a 43% increase among Asian Americans and 49% among Latinos.

The NSSF estimates that 40% of gun sales overall were for first-time gun buyers.

Still, across the board, many Latinos are calling for some type of change. The Latino Rifle Association, a gun owner group, also called for solutions to gun violence.

In a statement posted online, the organization said, “We want a society that does not foster and arm hatred, does not leave millions behind in conditions of poverty and systemic violence.”

It added, “So much must be done to create a society that the children at Robb Elementary School deserved.”

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