The impact of firearms death and injury on the Hispanic community is rarely discussed in the debate over gun violence in the United States, yet Americans of Hispanic heritage are disproportionately affected by firearms when compared to the population as a whole. The reasons for this damaging omission are varied. Foremost is the crippling lack of data due to severe limitations of current surveillance systems. Another reason is that the devastating effect of firearms on blacks in America has caused less attention to be paid to the effect of guns on other minority communities. Yet, while firearms violence among Hispanics has received limited attention among the public, press, and policymakers, this segment of society has consistently paid a disproportionately high price in gun death and injury – regardless of whether overall gun death rates are increasing, or decreasing.
Hispanicsa are the fastest growing and the youngest racial/ethnic group in the United States. In 1999 there were approximately 31,365,000 Hispanics in the United States, with an average age of 28.8 years.1 The Hispanic population in the United States is growing several times faster than the non-Hispanic population – more than doubling between 1980 and 1999. The Census Bureau estimates that by the year 2005 Hispanics will surpass blacks as the largest minority group in the United States.2 (See Chart 1) This fact has not gone unnoticed by the gun industry.
Chart 1: Data from www.census.gov.
Recognizing that Hispanics own guns at rates lower than the general population, gun manufacturers – reeling from stagnant sales among the primary market of white males – have targeted Hispanics (as well as blacks and women) as untapped markets waiting to be sold. A 1997 article for the gun industry publication Shooting Sports Retailer bluntly titled “Gun industry must become less racist to survive in the 21st century” offered one analyst’s view of what “Hispanics and guns” could mean for the firearms industry:
[A]ll of the usual customers the industry reaches (people of Northern European descent) who wanted a gun, now have one….A major effort needs to be made to include those groups who are presently referred to as America’s racial and ethnic minorities, but who are rapidly becoming the majority. And there is tremendous potential within this largely untapped market.3
Only recently has the term “Hispanic” been added to the definitions used by public health officials in their data-gathering, allowing for improved analysis and comparison with other racial and ethnic groups. Although more information on the Hispanic population of the United States is available than ever before, it is still incomplete, with many crucial gaps waiting to be filled.
Increased understanding of the effect guns have on Hispanics is important not only because of the high price being paid today in death and injury, but also because future lives will be lost if the gun industry succeeds in its marketing plans. The goal of this study is to present the available data on Hispanics and firearms violence in the United States and is organized as follows:
- Section One: The National Perspective, presents available information from national data sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Bureau of Justice Statistics. This section looks at national data for criminal victimization, domestic violence, nonfatal firearm injuries, suicide, and other issues.
- Section Two: Regional Snapshots examines data from three geographic regions with large Hispanic populations: California, Texas, and Chicago. Each of these three data sets offers far more comprehensive data on Hispanics and firearms violence than data gathered by any national agency or bureau.
- Section Three: Conclusion offers policy recommendations based on the findings of the study.
a) The term “Hispanic” is defined as “a person who describes himself or herself as Mexican American, Chicano, Mexican, Mexicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central American, South American, or from some other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.” Definition from Adam Dobrin et al., Statistical Handbook on Violence in America (Phoenix: The Oryx Press, 1996): 360.