By Gaby Padrón Loewenstein
MIAMI — When my husband and I moved back to the United States from Venezuela with our son in 2012, we were excited about the opportunities that life in America would provide. We were also eager to leave behind the tragically high levels of violence that have engulfed the South American nation. Venezuela has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and I knew firsthand what it was like to live with the fear of being threatened with a gun. My mother and siblings had been held for hours by men armed with assault rifles who came to rob their home. This type of violence is a terrifying reality for Venezuelans.
But as we settled in this country of opportunities, I was less prepared for how gun violence would still affect our lives here. I was volunteering at my son’s daycare center in Florida when we heard the news that children his age had been shot and killed along with their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. The thought of kissing my son goodbye, as those parents in Newtown had, and never seeing him alive again terrified me and made me furious. How, in a country as developed as the U.S., are we willing to sit back and let gun violence be something we have to worry about every time we take our children to school, go shopping, or attend church? More than 100 Americans are fatally shot on an average day, and more than 200 others are shot and wounded.
Communities of color bear the brunt of America’s gun violence epidemic. According to the Violence Policy Center, Latinx people are nearly twice as likely to be killed by gun homicide as non-Latinx white people, with over 3,000 Latinx deaths by gun violence in the United States each year. Our communities are also disproportionately impacted by hate violence when extremists use guns to turn their racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric deadly. A Department of Justice report found that, in the last five years studied, Latinx experienced a higher rate of violent hate crime victimization than Black people in America, even before the 2019 shooting in El Paso where 23 people were killed and 23 others were wounded.
This is all unacceptable. That’s why I joined Moms Demand Action and helped launch its Florida chapter six years ago, growing it into one of the largest local groups in the country. I’m now part of a grassroots army of mothers, students, and gun violence survivors who are pushing our lawmakers to act on this urgent public health crisis.
But in what has often been called the “Gunshine State“ there is still a lot of work to be done. In Florida we succeeded in passing an Extreme Risk Protection Order law that empowers families and law enforcement to act on warning signs in the wake of the 2018 Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. We are fighting to require background checks on all gun sales, keep guns out of schools, provide sorely-needed funding for violence intervention programs, and repeal our state’s dangerous Stand Your Ground law.
This work has never been more urgent, because nationally gun violence has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching the highest rate of gun deaths in two decades. Right now we have an opportunity to prevent gun violence by giving lifesaving programs, like Inner City Innovators here in West Palm Beach, the resources they need to carry out their critical mission: stopping gun violence before it happens.
While Latinx people are disproportionately affected by the gun violence crisis, we are also on the front lines of ending it. Latinx advocates are playing a vital role in this work, both here in Florida and across the country. The gun violence prevention movement is strong today because we have built a diverse coalition of Americans committed to making our country safer.
We as Latinx Americans have the power to help rewrite our country’s history of gun violence and make it a safer place for all families. During this Latinx Heritage Month, I urge more members of my community to join me in the fight to end gun violence.
Gaby Padrón Loewenstein is a volunteer with the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Twitter: @babsomewhere