The city of El Paso, Texas, which borders Mexico, is an important center for West Texas’ Mexican community — however, it is now also the location of one of the most infamous mass shootings in recent American history.
An El Paso Walmart location fell victim to a mass shooting that left 22 people dead in 2019, according to CNN. It was later found that the shooter, an avowed white supremacist, targeted the region specifically for its large Mexican-American community.
While many expressed outrage at the senseless attack on innocent lives, Berkeley law student Phillip Gomez decided to take action by forming the Latino Rifle Association, or LRA.
“The normal spaces that people associate with learning about guns, like gun shops and ranges, are not friendly places for people who may be the children of immigrants,” Gomez said. “There was sort of that need for that alternative, and what made me decide to put it into action was the chaos of 2020, election instability and rising far-right violence.”
According to Gomez, the LRA is an “advocacy and education group” which provides marginalized people with lessons on using firearms to defend themselves. Gomez added that the LRA has hundreds of members from across the nation, from the Bay Area to El Paso to Washington, D.C.
Gomez said many who use and defend firearms in the United States are allegedly “bigoted,” with many spaces often being hostile towards people of color. He spoke from experience, recalling how he saw Confederate paraphernalia at gun shows and overheard xenophobic conversations at gun shops.
To counter that rhetoric, Gomez founded the LRA as an inclusive space. He added that the organization often faces criticism from conservative groups for being “leftist and progressive,” in addition to being LGBTQ+ inclusive.
Unlike many other firearm advocacy groups, Gomez says the LRA does not explicitly support the Second Amendment because the right to self-protection should exist regardless of the Constitution. Instead, he believes that firearms should be available for self-protection because of unfair enforcement of gun control.
“Can you honestly say that it would not be wise for marginalized groups to at least be proficient in armed self-defense?” Gomez said. “Do you really think these rural sheriffs are going to go and disarm all these far-right militias who they’re probably friends with, or do you think it’s going to be used to increase the mass incarceration of Black and brown people in this country?”
As an example of lawmakers unfairly disarming people of color, Gomez alleged that California has used gun control laws to take rights away from marginalized communities, such as when former CA Gov. Ronald Reagan passed gun control laws to disarm the Black Panthers.
According to Gomez, the United States has a “unique problem” with mass shootings and political violence that makes organizations like the LRA necessary.
“We are reacting to the way that America is, not the hypothetical of what it could be,” Gomez said. “If we’re advocating for armed self-defense, it is because we genuinely believe that it is necessary and proportionate to the threats that marginalized communities face in the United States.”