Will Latinos play a role in current gun debate?

Weapon ownership is low, but impact of firearm violence is significant
2013-03-11T00:00:00Z 2013-03-11T00:50:07Z Will Latinos play a role in current gun debate?Joseph Treviño Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Artemisa Gaxiola's pink .38-caliber revolver matches her necklace and makeup.

Gaxiola, a 30-year-old massage therapist, said she has been attracted to guns ever since she was a teen growing up in her native Hermosillo, where she often hunted with family.

The national gun debate that has resonated from the nation's capital to Tucson's City Council chambers does not change her opinion about gun ownership.

"The gun is not bad. It is how the person uses the gun," Gaxiola said.

Latinos like Gaxiola could have a lot of influence in the ongoing debate over gun legislation, according to some political analysts.

In general, Latinos are not likely to own guns, according to a series of Gallup polls from 2007 to 2012.

About 18 percent of Latinos are gun owners, according to the surveys, compared with about 64 percent from the largest group of gun owners - married white men from the South.

About 12 percent of Latinas surveyed said they owned a gun.

And about 29 percent of Latinos said protecting gun rights was important, compared with about 57 percent of whites in the surveys.

"Perhaps in the future, as our numbers continue to grow, Hispanics will demand laws to limit the possibility of senseless gun violence," wrote Raul A. Reyes, a lawyer who contributes to NBC Latino.

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva said he grew up on a ranch and that guns were "part and parcel" of ranch life for his family.

Still, Grijalva noted that many Latinos have seen the devastating effect gun violence has had in their neighborhoods, which might make city dwellers more likely to support gun-control measures.

He said Latinos tend to lean in that direction because of personal experiences involving firearms violence.

That's not the case for Sergio Arellano, a U.S. Army veteran gun enthusiast.

Arellano, a Republican, promotes gun ownership and is skeptical of ongoing efforts to implement new gun laws.

Arellano's first gun was a rifle he bought for hunting, and he's been collecting guns since leaving the Army.

The Sonora native said drug violence in Mexico might not be as bad had the government allowed its law-abiding citizens to legally own guns.

"They want to take away from us certain guns while criminals can get any type of guns," he said of the current debate over gun laws.

Bobby Boido, a Tucson business owner, hunter and member of the National Rifle Association, said he is skeptical of the polls showing Latinos are less likely to own guns or that they're less likely to oppose new restrictions on gun ownership.

Guns, Boido said, have long been part of the Mexican ethos.

"It's part of Mexican culture, part of a way of life," said Boido, who was born in Sonora but raised in Tucson.

Stephen A. Nuño, a professor at Northern Arizona University who studies politics and the social behavior of Latinos in the U.S., is also skeptical of polls showing Latinos are less likely to own guns or favor restrictions on gun ownership.

In fact, Nuño said for some immigrants gun ownership is often a rite of passage to becoming an American.

"If you feel ... empowered and feel ownership of your country," he said, "it is more probable that you feel the ability to protect yourself with a handgun is something you have a right to."

Contact Joseph Treviño at jtrevino@azstarnet.com or at 807-8029.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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