By Edward Carlson, Policy Analyst, Civil Rights Policy Project, NCLR
Set against a backdrop of families who were all directly impacted by gun violence, it was hard to miss what was at stake at last week’s Senate hearing on “Proposals to Reduce Gun Violence.” The hearing was an opportunity to present solutions to the problems that brought tragedy to these families and so many others. The problem, as uniquely characterized by each witness, runs wide and deep in the United States. Each year, as one witness explained:
- 31,000 Americans die from gunshot wounds
- 337,960 Americans suffer from nonfatal violent crimes
- Billions of dollars are lost through gun violence
These numbers and several recent tragedies have heightened awareness about the immediate need to take action to decrease gun violence. However, the hearing needed more discussion of the impact of gun violence within the Hispanic community. The underlying factors that contribute to gun violence, such as lack of education, employment, and recreational opportunities, in Latino and urban communities across the country are rarely discussed.
The stakes for taking action are now greater than ever for the Hispanic community. In 2010, Latinos had the third-highest rate of gun-related homicides, according to the Child’s Trend Databank. There were 17.8 per 100,000 deaths for Latino males, which was unacceptably high by any standard. The effect of these statistics can be seen in Hispanic communities across the country. In the Southwest Side of Chicago, where NCLR has several Affiliates, there is at least one high school in a predominantly Latino neighborhood that does not hold outside gym class because of fear of violence.
Yet, as sequestration approaches, Congress fails to take action, and there are no concrete plans for addressing the underlying causes of gun violence. In fact, for five years, Congress has failed to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and failed to appropriate adequate funding for critical violence prevention programs at the state and local levels. If the automatic spending cuts are enacted, it could equal a 56% reduction in funding since 2002. This could have a devastating impact on the fight against the multitude of sources that contribute to gun violence in communities where a disproportionate number of Latinos are the victims of violence.
We must stop the mass shootings from ever happening again. Our children deserve a better future. However, we also must focus on the everyday shootings that occur and continue to plague communities, both rural and urban. These hearings are the start of an important conversation about gun violence, and the families who came should be commended for continuing to raise awareness of the issue. As Connecticut Senator Blumenthal expressed at the hearing, he hopes that the interest in gun violence that Newtown generated does not dissipate. Those victims, and many others, should have had the chance to live a full life. Solutions are needed, and they must be found soon.