Lisa Espinosa says she can remember every detail of the day her youngest son was shot four years ago outside a nightclub in Philadelphia while he was trying to stop an altercation. Since then, she has channeled her grief and become a voice in the fight to enact legislation to curb gun violence.
Raymond Pantoja, her son, was 26.
"He died from a single bullet to the heart, 15 to 17 minutes after impact. There was no goodbye. Sadly, we see that violence becomes normal," Espinosa said. "I felt that his death could not be in vain, because he died doing a good deed.
"That bullet went through my heart and that of his daughter, that of all the people who loved him," Espinosa, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, said in a telephone interview with Noticias Telemundo.
Espinosa is part of the organization Everytown for Gun Safety, which announced a bilingual advertising campaign of $1 million Monday aimed at Latino voters in Florida and Arizona, key states in the election.
Everytown for Gun Safety, which endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in March, produced the ad campaign with Priorities USA Action. The messages slam President Donald Trump for "caving to the gun lobby," which spent $31 million to support his election, and for backing away from his pledge to the families of the people killed in the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in 2018 that he would support background checks. Another ad in Spanish said Trump is responsible for the "American carnage" he spoke about in his January 2017 inauguration, with over 120,000 people dead from gun violence and over 200,000 from the coronavirus.
Trump and his supporters have falsely claimed that Biden and other Democrats want to eliminate the Second Amendment and the constitutional right to own weapons.
"For me, human life is more important than protecting a gun," Espinosa said. "There is a federal law that requires the use of three-shot guns to hunt birds, but we have no laws to protect people from assault weapons."
Espinosa, who moved to Arizona last year to take care of her mother, advocates for expanded background checks of gun buyers and a ban on making and selling weapons commonly described as assault rifles, "because praying will not change this stuff."
As many as 3,600 Latinos die each year from gun violence, and Latino children and youths are three times more at risk than whites. Gun violence kills almost 38,000 people in the U.S. every year, almost a hundred a day, according to Everytown data.
'It's very difficult'
Espinosa apologized as she tried to stifle tears as she recalled her search for answers after her son was killed. "I'm sorry, it's very difficult," she said.
Witnesses did not want to speak out of fear of reprisals, she said. Six months later, a man, Giovanny Perales, was arrested on third-degree murder and weapons charges. In May 2019, he was sentenced to up to 28 years in prison, with five years of probation.
Perales had a criminal record and should not have had access to guns, but police found that he had drugs, multiple assault rifles and "a room full of bullets," Espinosa said.
According to Everytown, as many as 300,000 Americans may have bought guns this year before completing criminal background checks.
An analysis by the Pew Research Center last year indicated that 30 percent of Americans own guns and that 42 percent live in homes where there are guns. The percentage is higher among white men and people in rural areas. In general, most Americans support more restrictions on access to guns.
James Aldrete, a political adviser in Texas, said a poll he conducted for EquisResearch and Everytown in July in Texas, Arizona and Florida showed that almost half of Latinos say they have become more supportive of background checks in the aftermath of the massacre of 23 people in El Paso, Texas, by a gunman who targeted Hispanics.
Even Latinos who own guns support preventing gun violence, the survey showed.
As a tribute to and celebration of her son, who was a fan of rap music, Espinosa created the Ray's Rhythm for Justice Foundation, which brings together families of victims of violence at an annual gala and offers scholarships to teenagers aspiring to music careers. She also helps raise Raymond's daughter, Johanna, who is 10 years old.
Espinosa said it is important to support congressional candidates who back legislation to curb gun violence. She applauded Biden for proposing measures to strengthen background checks and prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.
"Will he be able to accomplish this 100 percent? Probably not, but if he can achieve one, two or three things ...," she said, her voice trailing off. "We need a good leader, because the one we have now is not working."