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Opinion: On Gun Control, A GOP Disconnect With Latino Voters

by Stephen A. Nuño /

As the Republicans struggle to get a foothold with more Latino voters, their gun policies are coming across as a major disconnect as they seek to be competitive in 2016.

With yet another mass shooting consuming the attention of the country this past week, the arguments on either side of the debate over gun control played out like a script we are all too familiar with. And while no amount of data appears to have any impact on the debate over the relationship between the number of guns in this country and gun-related deaths - or that more guns doesn’t equal less crime - we continue to be stuck in a standoff of wills.

With only 20 percent of Latino households with a gun in the home, compared to 41 percent of non-Hispanic white households, the current Republican message on gun control is likely to fall flat. Even the more “moderate” of the Republican primary group are taking their cues from Donald Trump, who said, "If you had teachers with guns you would've been a hell of a lot better off”.

In an interview with Today Show’s Matt Lauer, Republican primary candidate Senator Marco Rubio said gun control “would not have prevented” the Oregon shooting. Jeb Bush responded to the Oregon shooting with, “stuff happens”. Well, fine, but aside from what doesn’t work or simply giving up, voters want to know what policies will the GOP enact that will reduce the likelihood of guns reaching the hands of those who would do harm to children and young people in schools?

If GOP politicians are looking to peel off important Latino-heavy swing states like Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida they will need to give more thought to their positions on gun control. Data from several sources continue to show strong support among Hispanics for stronger gun control laws.

A 2012 poll by Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of Latinos thought that controlling gun ownership was more important than protecting the rights of Americans to own guns, compared to only 39 percent of non-Hispanic whites who prioritized gun rights over gun control.

Several polls show Latino voters are overwhelmingly in favor of modest reforms that reduce or restrict guns and ammunition.

Even more striking, when the numbers were broken down by foreign-born and native-born Latinos, 82 percent of those who were not born in the United States prioritized gun control. Perhaps one can interpret this to mean that Latinos become more wary of gun control the longer they are here, but this in no way seems sustainable for a Republican Party that is so adamantly opposed to even modest changes in gun policy reforms.

Latino Decisions, who was recently hired by Democratic primary candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign, has also done work on this topic and will have their finger on the pulse of Latinos on gun control leading up to the 2016 elections. In a poll Latino Decisions conducted in 2013, their data breaks down gun control by various policies, such as background checks, a national database, and other such reform proposals. Consistent with the data from Pew Research Center, Hispanics overwhelmingly in favor of modest reforms that reduce or restrict guns and ammunition.

Their polling numbers show that 84 percent of Latino voters support background checks, 69 percent support a national database and 62 percent support limitations on high capacity magazines. A majority of Hispanics even supported a ban on semi-automatic weapons.

This is a far cry from the current do-nothing proposals coming from candidates like Mr. Bush and Mr. Rubio. The question is whether Republicans and Latinos can continue to be this far apart on policies like gun control and expect any amount of marketing or outreach to overcome it.

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