(CNN)After overhearing constant racist and anti-immigrant comments made by his neighbors, Tony Martinez said he knew he needed to find a way to feel safer.
Tired of living in fear, some Latinos are buying guns to feel more safe
He bought his first rifle last month, joined a gun club and has been visiting shooting ranges in Southern California on the weekends.
"It's more for me to be safe from them," Martinez, 31, told CNN, referring to his neighbors in his Orange County community. "What if one day something happens, someone gets some idea?"
Martinez is not the only Latino immigrant in the US who has recently felt more concerned for his safety -- last year's shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, jolted Latinos and immigrants across the United States. Twenty three people died and nearly two dozen more were injured in what is considered one of the nation's deadliest shootings and the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern US history.
Authorities said the suspected shooter drove to El Paso with the sole intent of killing immigrants and Mexicans in the West Texas border city. In February, he was indicted on 90 federal charges, including hate crimes, according to court documents.
Even before the mass shooting, the number of hate crimes targeting Latino or Hispanic people increased in 2018 and the previous four years, according to data from the FBI's annual Hate Crime Statistics report.
Tired of living in fear, some people like Martinez have opted to purchase firearms to feel a sense of security.
Martinez, a researcher in the University of California system, lives in a predominantly white neighborhood where he said many families own guns. CNN is using a modified version of Martinez's name at his request, due to fear of retaliation given the racist rhetoric surrounding immigrant matters.
He said he feels his neighbors would not accept him if they knew details about his background. "I will never reveal that I have a green card," Martinez, who immigrated from Mexico, said. "I don't think that would sit very well with them. I feel like they would harass me and my wife, they would damage my property, harass my dog."
It's unclear how many Latinos have bought guns in the past year, as there isn't a national database of gun ownership that shows demographics.
The FBI reported a surge in background checks by individuals attempting to purchase firearms in recent months. But the agency's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is the nation's gun buying background check system, does not disclose information regarding the race and ethnicity of those who purchase firearms.
But experts say it wouldn't be unusual for people to gravitate toward purchasing firearms after feeling threatened.
People who in the past have been less likely to own firearms, including Latinos, might become interested in acquiring them after seeing more people around them doing so, according to Kellie Lynch, who has conducted research on firearm ownership among domestic violence victims.