Hispanic voters push campaigns to address gun violence

Hispanics have become increasingly worried about gun violence and mass shootings in recent months, making the issue a top campaign priority for more voters at a time when Latino communities have been targeted in some of the nation’s most high-profile shootings.

Two recent polls of Hispanic voters show that the number of Hispanic voters saying mass shootings should be the top issue for Congress and the president has more than doubled in recent months, from just 6 percent in June to 13 percent in September.

{mosads}In between the two surveys, conducted for Univision by Latino Decisions, was the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, that left 22 people dead. The gunman later told police he was targeting Mexicans.

Campaigns are now adapting their messages, with Democrats focusing on the link between mass shootings and white nationalism, and President Trump’s rhetoric.

“We need to call out white supremacy for what it is: domestic terrorism. It poses a threat to Black and Latinx families and to the entire country. Too often, guns are used to provoke fear in communities of color,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, in an email statement to The Hill.

Warren’s gun control proposal includes a ban on gun ownership for anyone convicted of a hate crime.

{mossecondads}And former Vice President Joe Biden, Warren’s main Democratic rival in the White House race, told audience members at the UnidosUS annual conference in August that white nationalism is fueling the epidemic of violence.

“We can’t fix a problem if we refuse to name the problem. Folks, it’s long past time that we in fact call it out for what it is: This is white nationalism. This is white supremacy. This is about hate. This is about what happened in a border community,” added Biden.

Making that link has resonated with Hispanic voters, who increasingly express fear they could be the next victims of a hate-fueled shooting.

According to last month’s Univision poll, 86 percent of Hispanics are worried about another mass shooting motivated by racial or ethnic hatred.

Democrats blame Trump’s rhetoric and the wide availability of military-style firearms.

“This is an administration that wants the American public to fear immigrants and to hate immigrants,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who represents El Paso, where 22 people died in the Walmart shooting.

“And ultimately, that leads to violence — it fuels violence — and so the fear that Latinos are feeling is completely well-founded. And after El Paso we saw that our reality is today is very different from what our reality was a few years ago,” she added.

Daniel C. Bucheli, a spokesman for Trump’s reelection campaign, said the president “enjoys broad support from minority communities, including Latinos and first-time voters, and this backing continues to grow daily.”

“President Trump has delivered on his promises of more jobs, a growing economy, secure borders and protecting all Americans’ constitutional rights,” said Bucheli. “Next year’s election will be a stark contrast between a proven record of success or big government socialist agenda pushed by the Democrats.”

Some of the deadliest shootings have targeted Hispanic communities.

In 2016, a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. A majority of the victims were of Puerto Rican descent.

That shooting, said Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), reframed the gun debate in Central Florida, but there was scant legislative action on the matter until two years later after a gunman killed 17 people and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“It absolutely fundamentally changed after both, Pulse nightclub and Parkland. I will tell you though, there was greater legislative change after Parkland,” said Soto, the first lawmaker of Puerto Rican origin elected to Congress from Florida.

“And unfortunately, that has to do a lot with the messengers. They went after an upper middle-class, predominantly Anglo school. And I think that resonated pretty strongly with Republican legislators here in Florida,” he added.

But Democrats disagree on how far to go on gun control.

After the El Paso shooting, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), a Democratic presidential candidate who previously held Escobar’s seat, lunged far to the left by proposing a compulsory buyback of military-style rifles.

Escobar stopped short of supporting O’Rourke’s proposal, but lauded her longtime political ally for expanding the conversation on guns.

“I think it’s important to have these debates, I really do. And we also have to remember that whoever the nominee is, and whatever position they might have, they still have to work with a Congress that is very diverse, even in our own party,” said Escobar.

Sixteen districts represented by Congressional Hispanic Caucus members — almost half of the group’s 38-strong membership — have experienced at least one mass shooting this year. Those shootings were among the 158 House districts, out of 435, impacted this year alone, according to a recent analysis by The Hill.

Soto said voters in his district are more open to the idea of military-style weapons bans, but polls show disparities among Hispanic groups when it comes to guns.

Twenty-three percent of Cuban Americans surveyed last month said their top issue was guns and shootings, compared with 13 percent among all Hispanic voters. Fourteen percent of Hispanics who have voted for the GOP said it was their top issue.

But when it comes to discussing mass shootings and assault weapons, there’s more unity than disagreement, Soto argued. 

“In the Democratic primary among our voters, there’s definitely a strong desire to ban assault weapons,” he said. “If you look at the history of our nation, these things ebb and flow.”

“People understand now that there weren’t these mass shootings that happened back then … and the number of deaths tripled after the assault weapons ban lapsed.”

Tags Beto O'Rourke Darren Soto Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Gun control Hispanic voters Joe Biden Mass shootings Veronica Escobar Violence
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