Republican opposition to gun control measures may damage the party amongst Latino voters, even as the party works to rebuild its image amongst the country’s fastest-growing voter block.
Just 18% of Latinos own guns, making them less likely than any other racial demographic to own a firearm, and they value gun rights less than any other demographic, according to a February Gallup poll. An April 2012 poll found that 57% of white voters ranked gun rights over that of gun ownership, as opposed to 29% of Latinos who ranked gun rights over gun ownership.
“Community violence and gun violence is something that has a deep impact within the Latino community, Latinos are about seven times more likely to die at the hands of a gun,” explained Jennifer Ng’andu, the director of health and civil rights at National Council of La Raza. “It’s hard to say if this is a swing issue for any community, but what I know is that people have very strong, visceral reactions about how they want to preserve community safety.”
The GOP has made enormous efforts to soften its stance on immigration, an issue they hope will help sway some Latino voters towards their candidates in future elections, but party-wide has held strong on gun rights.
In his State of the Union rebuttal Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio doubled down on the GOP’s stance on guns: “We were all heart-broken by the recent tragedy in Connecticut,” he said. “We must effectively deal with the rise of violence in our country. But unconstitutionally undermining the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans is not the way to do it.”
Ng’andu noted that while Republicans have certainly softened their previous stances on immigration, Latinos aren’t a single-issue voting block.
“There’s certainly been a lot of calibration on what the GOP thinks on immigration,” Ng’andu said. “The fact is there are a variety of issues that Latinos care about— the welfare of their communities, the economy, education.”
The GOP has aligned itself closely with the National Rifle Association, whose pro-gun efforts are perceived by some to be racist. An editorial published Wednesday in the Daily Caller cited Latin American drug gangs and urban looters as a reason Americans needed guns. Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough slammed the editorial for “racial undertones” that would hurt the party’s outreach amongst Latinos.
“Everything that Republicans are now trying to do to make up for their 27% showing in the election with Hispanics, Wayne LaPierre has undercut with this letter by talking about Latin American drug gangs, by talking about South Brooklyn,” he said on Thursday’s Morning Joe, referring to the low percentage of Latinos who voted for Romney in 2012 “Again a racially tinged, very suggestive op-ed [by LaPierre] who Republicans are blindly following around.”
The NRA has a history of clashing with Latino politicians, too: In 2009, the NRA angered Latino voters and politicians when they opposed the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Democrats with strong NRA ratings wrote an open letter fighting their opposition to the nomination.
“We are concerned that your opposition will alienate Hispanic NRA members and dismayed that you may unnecessarily force some well-intentioned Senators to choose between disappointing the NRA or infuriating their Hispanic constituents,” wrote Reps. Joe Baca, D-Calif., Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, and Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and John Salazar, D-Colo, who all had high ratings by the NRA.