It’s time to change our nation’s gun-loving storyline, and the Latino leadership of the city, state and nation must lead the way.
There was a time when every American young boy could expect to receive a toy gun as a birthday gift. A flashy Western-style Colt revolver, perhaps, or an outwardly drab automatic rifle which exploded into rapid-fire sounds at the pull of a trigger. We’ve long been a gun-toting culture: our best known homegrown mythology — the one we’ve imported worldwide from early in Hollywood’s heyday — is of the Wild West with its showdowns, shootouts and posses.
As a nation we kind of liked this rough-and-tumble mythology and its implication that, as long as we had a trusted Winchester at hand, we were rugged and fearless enough to take on anything that stood in our way.
In the 21st century, that myth doesn’t play out pretty. As a nation we are best known not for our ruggedness nor our fearlessness these days, but for our exaggerated love for our guns.
The Twitter timeline documenting the Olympic games, for example, has been rife with global tweets about the predictability of U.S. prowess in sports that involve the use of firearms.
The tweets haven’t been complimentary.
Then there’s this: we are a nation so armed we cannot even ride a subway or attend a movie premiere, without worrying that the person seated next to us has an arsenal, including semi or fully automatic weapons, at hand.
The night of Aug. 1 it was Jermal Ponds sitting in the car of Philadelphia’s Broad Street line with an AK-47 assault rifle (along other weapons); in late July it was James Holmes at the Colorado movie theater with an AR-15 assault rifle (along with a lot of other weapons).
As much as we want to isolate ourselves from the whys and wherefores of these gun-toting examples, we cannot.
In a Gallup poll conducted from Oct. 6-9 of 2011, 45 percent of U.S. citizens said we had a gun in our home; and another 2 percent had a gun elsewhere on our property (shed, garage or other outbuilding, or in our cars or trucks).
Forty-seven percent of us said we believed having a gun in the house made us safer, and 67 percent of us said we purchased those guns exclusively to protect ourselves against crime.
Sixty-nine percent of us have fired the gun we have at home.
And, a staggering 53 percent of us were opposed to a ban on semiautomatic and assault rifles.
For Latinos in particular this trend and reputation is bad, bad news.
Seventy percent of us — U.S. Latinos, that is — would prefer to see more gun controls in place, according to a 2011 Pew Center poll.
The United States’ Hispanic population suffers from firearms violence at rates far greater than the U.S. population overall, according to the Violence Policy Center.
“In 1998, 72 percent of Hispanic homicide victims were killed with a firearm,” the 2001 report states. This is despite the fact that Latinos own guns at a rate lower than the general population (11 percent of Hispanics compared to 16 percent of blacks and 27 percent of whites, according to the same report).
“Hispanics are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to be victims of violent crimes involving strangers. Homicide, both firearm- and non-firearm related, is the seventh leading cause of death among Hispanics,” the report goes on to say.
Coupled with the FBI’s 2011 Hate Crimes Statistics report which showed there was an 11 percent spike in crimes against Latinos in 2010 (Latinos constituted 45 percent of the 66 percent of ethnically motivated hate crimes the FBI tracked that year) the numbers indicate it’s high time to forget the Wild West mythos.
Instead it’s time for national, regional and local Latino leadership to write a new story: Step up, we say, and become the leading voices in favor of gun control.