Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey attempted to appeal to both sides of the gun control debate this week by issuing a call for nationwide "gun responsibility" rather than gun control in an op-ed for USA Today. Yet, while not going nearly as far as Democratic lawmakers and anti-gun advocates would have liked him to, the celebrity and Uvalde, Texas native ended up pushing for the adoption of several unproven gun control measures to curb gun violence in the country.
What are the details?
McConaughey, like many Americans, was forced once again to weigh arguments in the national debate over firearms in response to a recent spate of mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and elsewhere. Particularly as a hometown kid from the site of a horrific elementary school massacre that left 19 children and three adults dead last month, the actor likely felt compelled to "do something," as Democrats in Washington routinely say.
He began his op-ed by acknowledging that "law-abiding Americans have a Second Amendment right, enshrined by our founders, to bear arms," but noted he also believes "we have a cultural obligation to take steps toward slowing down the senseless killing of our children." And while "the debate about gun control has delivered nothing but status quo," he suggested a new approach: "gun responsibility."
The actor acknowledged that a litany of other factors — such as the lack of mental health care, adequate school security, sensationalized media coverage, and the decay of American values — played major parts in manufacturing gun violence, and needed to be addressed. But without "the luxury of time," he argued, we need to focus our time and energy on adopting policies that will have an immediate effect on gun violence.
Such policies, he said, included requiring background checks for all gun purchases, implementing nationwide "red flag laws," raising the age limit for buying an "assault rifle" (no such thing) to 21, and instituting a waiting period before the purchase of such weapons.
Below is McConaughey's full list of proposals:
1. All gun purchases should require a background check. Eighty-eight percent of Americans support this, including a lot of responsible gun owning Texans. … I’ve met them. Roof, who killed nine people in a black church in South Carolina in 2015, got his pistol without a completed background check due to a legal technicality. The system failed. Gun control activists call this a loophole. I call it incompetence.
2. Unless you are in the military, you should be 21 years old to purchase an assault rifle. I’m not talking about 12-gauge shotguns or lever-action hunting rifles. I’m talking about the weapon of choice for mass murderers, AR-15s. The killer in my hometown of Uvalde purchased two AR-15s for his eighteenth birthday, just days before he killed 19 students and two teachers. He obeyed the law. Had the law been different, perhaps I wouldn’t be writing this today.
3. Red Flag Laws should be the law of the land. These measures, which are already in effect in 19 states and Washington, D.C., empower loved ones or law enforcement to petition courts to temporarily prevent individuals who may be a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or accessing firearms. These laws must respect due process, judicial review, and hold account individuals who may abuse such laws.
4. We need to institute a national waiting period for assault rifles. Individuals often purchase weapons in a fit of rage, harming themselves or others. Studies show that mandatory waiting periods reduced homicides by 17 percent. Gun suicides account for the majority of U.S. gun deaths. A waiting period to purchase an assault rifle is an acceptable sacrifice for responsible gun owners when it can prevent a mass shooting crime of passion or suicide.
He added that he understands that these policies will not solve all of the problems related to gun violence and mass shootings, but said if they can curb some, "they're worth it."
"There is a difference between control and responsibility," McConaughey argued. "The first is a mandate that can infringe on our right; the second is a duty that will preserve it. There is no constitutional barrier to gun responsibility. Keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous people is not only the responsible thing to do, it is the best way to protect the Second Amendment. We can do both."
But many law-abiding, gun-owning Americans will likely see only blurred lines in his argument. The measures McConaughey advocates for look a lot like knee-jerk reactions frequently offered by progressives, regardless of his stated respect for the Second Amendment. Just as well, all have their own practica and constitutional pitfalls.
For example, waiting periods and age requirements sound like simple, easy solutions, but for what other rights enshrined in the Constitution are Americans required to wait before exercising? And what happens when 21-year-olds commit atrocities with guns after waiting to purchase their weapons. Will the ticker once again be moved?
Universal background checks are another popular proposal offered by gun control proponents. But it, too, can be situationally impractical, nearly unenforceable, and the most likely to be ignored by the very criminals it intends to stop.
Some argue red flag laws carry the same pitfalls. While it sounds easy enough to simply identify the unstable or irresponsible members of society that shouldn't be trusted with guns, the reality is often much more difficult to assess. The Uvalde shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, had displayed bizarre behavior that resulted in him being a societal outcast but none of it rose to the level of criminal behavior.
In an interview with CNN's Dana Bash last month, Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw (Texas) provided some necessary clarity on a number of the proposals raised by McConaughey. He called the so-called solutions bad policies since they likely would primarily serve to infringe the rights of millions of law-abiding citizens while doing comparatively little to stop mass shootings.
"It's an outcome problem," Crenshaw told Bask. "I don't think [these proposals] would have the outcome people think they would have."
Crenshaw noted that people often have misconceptions about universal background checks, which really mean that background checks would be required for private gun transactions. Background checks are already required by law for all gun transactions between a party and a licensed firearms dealer.
"[It] means that I can no longer sell a gun to my friend. If my neighbor — let's say her husband is gone for the week and she wants to borrow my gun, that would make us both felons," Crenshaw eplained, adding that "the people who are least likely to adhere to a universal background check are the criminals who intend harm."
He also questioned the need for red flag laws, saying, "What you’re essentially trying to do with a red flag law is enforce the law before the law has been broken, and it’s a really difficult thing to do. It’s difficult to assess whether somebody is a threat."
"Now, if they're such a threat that they are threatening someone with a weapon already, well then, they've already broken the law. So why do we need this other law?" he added.