Neto's Tucson: Minorities need to be at the table in gun-control debate

2013-03-31T00:00:00Z 2014-08-05T13:51:11Z Neto's Tucson: Minorities need to be at the table in gun-control debateErnesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

At Thursday's local kickoff of a nationwide effort to get Congress to pass some common-sense weapons' legislation, a dozen speakers made the case for universal background checks for gun buyers.

I'm all for for greater safeguards, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

But if the move toward reducing gun violence and getting Congress to move off its keister is going to be successful, it needs to be more inclusive.

With few exceptions, the participants and audience at the press conference for the National Day of Action to Reduce Gun Violence were Anglo. Gun-control advocates would be wise to woo blacks and Latinos who are more likely to support gun control, according to a 2011 study by the Pew Research Center.

The issue, of course, is not about a person's ethnicity or racial background. Neither is it a "right versus left" debate, said Daniel Hernandez, one of the speakers and a witness to the Jan. 8, 2011, Tucson shooting that killed six people and injured 13, including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, for whom Hernandez was an intern at the time. .

"This is about right versus wrong," said Hernandez, a member of the Sunnyside School Board.

Getting more people of color on the right side is paramount. I'm sure organizers and participants - which included Organizing for Action, Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns - did not intentionally ignore the minority communities of Tucson. But they are going to need to reach out to African-Americans, indigenous, young people and Latinos to achieve their goals.

It has to be done, said Pastor Elwood McDowell of Trinity Missionary Baptist Church on Tucson's west side, who spoke at the event. He plans to engage his congregation and fellow Baptist ministers in the movement to get sensible legislation.

"Many of us have had funerals of young people killed from gun violence," said McDowell, an African-American who is one of 12 ministers with the Southern Arizona Missionary Baptist District Association, which includes churches in Tucson, Sierra Vista and Casa Grande.

The victims of violence reflect America's diverse ethnic makeup. So should the effort to slow down the sale of illegal guns.

"We're just getting started," said South Tucson Mayor Jennifer Eckstrom, who spoke at the press conference and is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

She said efforts are under way to educate local residents on the threat posed by illegal guns. One example is South Tucson's Healthy Habits program. Along with learning about better eating habits and preventive health care, people also need to learn about gun violence, she said.

Young people, too, need to be brought into the movement, said Vanessa Estrella, an 18-year-old student at Las Artes, an arts and education program in South Tucson, sponsored by Pima County.

Estrella attended the press conference with about 10 fellow students and teacher John Vazquez Bedoy.

How fitting that they were there. Young people have a greater stake than older residents in the outcome of the anti-illegal gun campaign.

Getting them engaged won't be easy, said Ganon Agee, 18, a Las Artes student. Young people are often indifferent and have other priorities, he said.

But Jasmine Jasso of Las Artes, who supports a ban on high-capacity magazines and assault rifles, said she will encourage her peers to support the legislation.

In any effort to push for social change, some people don't need to be asked to participate. Others do.

"The only way is to reach out to communities of color," said Carla Garcia, a volunteer for Organizing For Action.

And why did this mom and grandmother get involved?

"Because I want to leave a better world for them."

Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at (520) 573-4187 or at

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