Lisa Espinosa’s 26-year-old son, Raymond “RJ” Pantoja, was shot and killed on April 10, 2016, in a senseless act of gun violence, after he tried to stop an altercation outside a nightclub in Philadelphia. He died a hero. In honor of her son’s life, and particularly his love of music, Lisa founded Ray’s Rhythm for Justice Foundation, which provides performing arts scholarships for children who are affected by gun violence. The death of Lisa’s son is just one example of the disproportionate impact gun violence has on the Latino community.
Latinos are dying from gun violence every day in this country and at rates disproportionate to their white peers. And increasingly, they are the target of hate-motivated violence, including in August 2019, when the devastating mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, laid bare the deadly consequences of hate and rhetoric against the Latino community. During Latino Heritage Month, it is especially important to recognize the ways that this community is affected by gun violence and to demand policies that will prevent it.
Latinos Experience Disproportionate Rates of Gun Violence
Each year, 3,600 Latinos1Often used interchangeably, “Latino” and “Hispanic” have different meanings: “Latino” refers to people of Latin American origin, while “Hispanic” refers to people of Spanish-speaking origin. Throughout this fact sheet, “Latino” is used as a preferred descriptor when data is available about both Hispanic and Latino communities, and “Hispanic” is used otherwise. die from gun violence in the US.2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of the most recent available data: 2014 to 2018. Latinos are twice as likely to be killed in a gun homicide as white people3CDC, WISQARS Fatal Injury Reports, Five-Year Average: 2014 to 2018. Homicide includes shootings by law enforcement. and are also more likely to be fatally shot by police.4Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund analysis of Mapping Police Violence 2013-2019, accessed June 4, 2020; “National Population by Characteristics: 2010-2019,” US Census Bureau, accessed June 4, 2020. On average, police shot and killed 177 Hispanic/Latino Americans per year; this is a rate of 2.95 fatal police shootings per million Hispanic/Latino Americans. During the same time, police shot and killed an average of 453 non-Hispanic white Americans each year; this is a rate of 2.29 per million non-Hispanic whites. This may underestimate the true rate, as race was unknown for approximately 10 percent of the reported deaths. The burden of gun violence is also borne by Latino children and teens, who are three times more likely to be killed in a gun homicide than their white peers5CDC, WISQARS Fatal Injury Reports, Five-Year Average: 2014 to 2018. Children and teenagers ages 0-19, Hispanic, white defined as non-Hispanic white, homicide including legal intervention. and are also more likely to be exposed to violence in cities.6Gregory M. Zimmerman and Steven F. Messner, “Individual, Family Background, and Contextual Explanations of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Youths’ Exposure to Violence,” American Journal of Public Health 103, no. 3 (March 2013): 435-442, https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300931.
Latinos in the US have historically been impacted by discriminatory policies and attitudes7Mark Hugo Lopez, Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, and Jens Manuel Krogstad, “More Latinos Have Serious Concerns About Their Place in America Under Trump,” Pew Research Center, October 25, 2018, https://pewrsr.ch/2GHgqfH. See also: Mary G. Findling et al., “Discrimination in the United States: Experience of Latinos,” Health Services Research 54 (October 30, 2019): 1475-6773, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1475-6773.13216; Joanna Almeida et al., “The Association between Anti-immigrant Policies and Perceived Discrimination among Latinos in the US: A Multilevel Analysis,” Population Health 2 (December 2016): 897-903, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352827316301471. and were victimized by hate-motivated violence long before the mass shooting in El Paso. Research has found that an increase in Hispanic immigration in recent years has been associated with an increase in anti-Hispanic hate crimes.8Michele Stacey, Kristin Carbone-López, and Richard Rosenfeld, “Demographic Change and Ethnically Motivated Crime: The Impact of Immigration on Anti-Hispanic Hate Crime in the United States,” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 27, no. 3 (August 2011): 278-298, journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1043986211412560?journalCode=ccja. Between 2011 and 2015, Hispanic people experienced a higher rate of violent hate crime victimization than both white and Black people.9Madeline Masucci and Lynn Langton, “Hate Crime Victimization, 2004-2015,” US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, June 2017, https://bit.ly/2ZmfP9X. Bias against Latinos, amplified by anti-immigrant policies and language from the White House, causes direct harm: A 2019 report found that 10 percent of Latino adults had been victimized by a hate crime in the past year.10Carlos A. Cuevas et al., “Understanding and Measuring Bias Victimization Against Latinos,” National Criminal Justice Reference Service, October 2019, https://bit.ly/3jiDgbq.
The Scope of Data is Limited
While it is clear that Latinos in the US are disproportionately affected by gun violence, the true scope of the impact is difficult to see. Aggressive federal immigration policies have a chilling effect on Latinos’ willingness to talk to police.11Hamutal Bernstein et al., “Adults in Immigrant Families Report Avoiding Routine Activities Because of Immigration Concerns,” Urban Institute, July 2019, https://urbn.is/3bJuErK. Practices like Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers appearing at hearings for protective orders have made immigrant domestic abuse survivors less likely to report the abuse.12Tahirih Justice Center et al., “Immigrant Survivors Fear Reporting Violence,” June 2019, https://bit.ly/2IWgp5U (national survey finding that three out of four advocates and attorneys reported that immigrant domestic abuse survivors have concerns about going to court for a matter related to the abuser/offender, and over 76 percent reported that immigrant survivors have concerns about contacting the police). Fear of police inquiries into their immigration status or the status of someone they know has made US-born Latinos less likely to report being victimized by a crime.13Nik Theodore, “Insecure Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement,” Department of Urban Planning and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, May 2013, https://bit.ly/3m7VNK3. Additionally, certain cultural elements shared by many members of the Latino community, including histories of dictatorial leadership in Latin America and demographic status as ethnic minorities in the US, make many Latinos wary of law enforcement.14See, e.g., Nicole Santa Cruz, Ruben Vives, and Marisa Gerber, “Why the Deaths of Latinos at the Hands of Police Haven’t Drawn as Much Attention,” Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2015, https://lat.ms/2DHWXKH.
While years of Congressional disinvestment in gun violence research have made it difficult to fully understand the causes and impacts of gun violence in the US generally, the problem may be compounded for the Latino population. The diversity of Hispanic or Latino identities—it is the largest minority group in the US15US Census Bureau, “QuickFacts: United States,” accessed August 21, 2020, https://bit.ly/2Ed8bqU. and includes people of all races—means that understanding exactly how gun violence impacts specific Latino communities is limited by insufficient collection of race and ethnicity data.16US Census Bureau, “Research to Improve Data on Race and Ethnicity,” accessed August 21, 2020, https://bit.ly/34mE8HN. See also: Mark Hugo Lopez, Jens Manuel Krogstad, and Jeffrey S. Passel, “Who is Hispanic?” Pew Research Center, November 11, 2019, https://pewrsr.ch/3aSkR2s.
Policymakers Can Act to Protect Latino Communities
Policymakers should take action to address the disproportionate impact of gun violence on Latinos in the US, including by:
- Funding community-based violence intervention programs that identify individuals who are at the highest risk of shooting or being shot and work to reduce violence through targeted interventions.
- Implementing policies that reduce police gun violence. Law enforcement agencies should have strong guardrails on when police may use force against civilians, ensure police are held accountable when force is used, and prioritize de-escalation, dignity, and respect.
- Prohibiting all people convicted of hate crimes from having guns. While a felony conviction prohibits gun possession under federal law, a hate crime misdemeanor conviction does not.
- Passing Extreme Risk Laws, which allow family members and law enforcement to ask a judge for an order to temporarily remove guns from a person who poses a serious risk of injuring others (or themselves) with a gun.
Latino Heritage Month
Observed annually from September 15 to October 15, Latino Heritage Month is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the histories, cultures, and contributions of Latino Americans. This period notably includes the dates on which several Latin American countries celebrate their independence.1September 15: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua; September 16: Mexico; September 18: Chile; September 21: Belize.
A 2020 poll of Latino voters found that over two-thirds consider a candidate’s position on guns “very important” to their vote, and gun violence prevention policies are broadly supported by the Latino community.2Global Strategy Group, EquisResearch, and Everytown for Gun Safety, “New Poll Shows Latino Voters are Prioritizing Gun Violence Prevention in the November Election,” July 29, 2020, https://bit.ly/2Ynzs0z. This year, with Latinos expected to account for 13 percent of all eligible voters,3Luis Noe-Bustamante, Abby Budiman, and Mark Hugo Lopez, “Where Latinos Have the Most Eligible Voters in the 2020 Election,” Pew Research Center, January 31, 2020, https://pewrsr.ch/3jIsCuN. it is important that Latino voters make a plan to have their voices heard at the ballot box and are aware of the candidates prioritizing gun safety.
In partnership with
Voto Latino is a grassroots political organization focused on educating and empowering a new generation of Latinx voters, as well as creating a more robust and inclusive democracy. Through innovative digital campaigns, culturally relevant programs, and authentic voices, we shepherd the Latinx community towards the full realization of its political power.