By Madelyn Colon
CTLatinoNews.com Political Columnist
In a powerful interview on a national Spanish language television network last week, the grieving grandmother of young Newtown victim, Ana Grace Márquez-Greene, pleaded with Latinos to add their voice to the national debate on tougher gun control laws.
From her home in Puerto Rico, Elba Márquez, a former Hartford teacher, spoke to us and without a doubt, connected with many Latinos across the country. Trying to be stoic, she was emotional and articulate and sounded like anyone of our grandmothers, an elder sharing words of wisdom that are hard to ignore. She challenged us to think. Asking us why would an arsenal of war weapons be needed in a home? What is their purpose?
This appeal to us on a national forum may be one of the first times in recent months since Sandy Hook, that Latinos across the nation have heard such a personal call to action on this issue.
While Márquez is the latest Latino to add her voice to the gun debate, all Latinos are not in agreement on this emotional issue. Among us, this too is a highly divisive issue and often opinions fall along political lines. Sen. Marc Rubio, R-Fla., the GOP’s most visible Latino, opposes the proposals currently before Congress saying they do not adequately address gun violence. He is not alone. Across the country, Latinos too, are members of the NRA, they enjoy hunting, but in some cases may be misinformed by fear mongers.
But fortunately, it appears that Latinos are solidly behind measures to control guns. In a new poll by Latino Decisions, 84 percent of those who responded support background checks and 69 percent favor a national database of gun owners. A high percentage also supported limiting magazine capacity and banning semi-automatics.
The Newtown shooting may have brought the gun control issue to a head, but the poll results reflect a growing concern about the escalating gun violence in our country among Latinos. In urban centers, young Latinos and Blacks have been dying of gun violence in great numbers for years. The Center for American Progress reports that of the 62 center cities in the nation’s 50 largest metro areas, 39 percent of deaths from gun-related murders occur in cities. In Connecticut, there were 78 shootings in Bridgeport last year and of the 367 gun homicides committed since 2009, almost three fourths of those occurred in New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport.
Hartford Democratic state Rep. Edwin Vargas believes the issue of guns can’t be separated from the problems of poverty, mental illness and illegal criminal activity. Hartford businessman, Sam Saylor says, this is a moment where we as a society have to look at ourselves and say what democracy means if kids are getting slaughtered by assault weapons and you have to own a gun to be a man.
Many Latinos know the horrors of gun violence from their homeland, in Central and South American countries. And now, increasingly in Puerto Rico, where horrific increases in gun violence are reaching epidemic proportions.
U.S. Latinos clearly have much at stake in this debate. The senate will be voting on gun control in the next few weeks and in Connecticut, as in a number of other states, the General Assembly plans to take up legislation this week. Broadening background checks and national gun owner databases are on the table.
Is the timing for this showdown right? Last year, at an anti-defamation league conference on security in Israel, Hartford Police Chief James C. Rovella, vividly remembers the answer to a question by one of the attendees on how to convince the public of the need for gun control. An Israeli commander stood up and said “You’ll know what to do about it when your rivers start running red.”
Our rivers have turned red. Márquez says she never imagined gun violence would strike her family. They are church going, they are hard working. Her ominous warning: today, it was us; tomorrow it could be your family. We have to fight for the children who are still alive.
Agreed. It’s time. We know from the past election, Latino voices made a difference. We can make a difference this time too. It should be personal for us.
By Madelyn Colon