So why is it that students can no longer learn without fearing for their lives? And why is this sentiment a normalized trend in our society?
On April 20, 1999, two teenagers killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. The world went into shock over the deaths of innocent students and faculty. The Columbine shooting was followed by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, 2012. Once again, thousands across the nation rallied against gun violence, lobbying for better gun regulation. On Feb. 14, 2018, yet another school shooting — this time at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. — resulted in 17 deaths and additional casualties.
On May 24, 21 more students and teachers were killed in the school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. This tragedy joins a long list of gun violence in our country’s history of unsafe firearm ownership.
As family members, friends and people all across the country grieve the loss of these children and faculty members, it becomes clear that our government’s response to gun violence needs to be different. The only way to restore safety in our schools is to ensure that events like Columbine, Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas and Robb are preventable. The good news is: We already know that school shootings are preventable — not inevitable — if Congress implements the right practices.
One individual whose commentary on the debate concerning more restrictive gun measures really captures the urgency of finding a solution with human safety at the forefront of government policies is actor Matthew McConaughey.
Before speaking at a White House press briefing this past Tuesday, McConaughey published an op-ed for The Austin American-Statesman section of the USA TODAY Network, titled: “There’s a difference between gun control and gun responsibility.” Throughout the article, he attempts to outline a viable plan of action that would prevent many gun-related tragedies in public institutions and essentially explain the importance of responsibility in gun ownership.
“I believe that responsible, law-abiding Americans have a Second Amendment right, enshrined by our Founders, to bear arms,” McConaughey writes. “I also believe we have a cultural obligation to take steps toward slowing down the senseless killing of our children. The debate about gun control has delivered nothing but status quo. It’s time we talk about gun responsibility.”
A gun owner himself, McConaughey validates the apprehension many people feel toward tightening gun laws. However, he is quick to point out that voters and lawmakers are obligated to protect their children from needless violence. His claim that gun control and gun responsibility are two entirely distinct concepts is key to finding the middle ground between both sides of the debate and developing an effective plan to reduce gun violence.
“There is a difference between control and responsibility. 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 also the best way to protect the Second Amendment. We can do both.”
– Matthew McConaughey
“Saving the unnecessary loss of lives is not a partisan issue,” McConaughey points out, addressing the divide between many liberal and conservative principles. Despite the pushback amongst Republican politicians to enact stricter gun measures, the vast majority of Americans are united on the issue of gun violence.
According to recent research conducted by Gallup, there is strong public support for common-sense restrictions, including required background checks for all gun purchases, a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons, and a 30-day waiting period for all gun sales.
In fact, 83% of gun owners and 72% of all NRA members support expanded and universal background checks on sales of all firearms. Policies like this would prevent “guns from being legally sold to some of those most likely to commit crimes with them,” according to ABC News.
And while gun violence won’t be resolved overnight, policymakers need to work towards restoring responsible gun ownership, an objective that would involve bipartisan compromises, says McConaughey.
He then lists several necessary changes to gun measures that would reinstate and ensure responsibility:
“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. Dylann 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-15-style rifles. The killer in my hometown of Uvalde purchased two of these semi-automatic rifles just after his 18th 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 could be a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or accessing firearms. These laws must respect due process, judicial review and hold account[able] individuals who might 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%. 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.”
When bridging the gap between both ends of the political spectrum, it is important to remember that this issue is not forcing people to choose between guns or no guns. It is instead acknowledging that real and effective legislation needs to be passed and that we should be doing everything within our power to ensure the safety of the people who are most threatened by gun violence.
“This is not a choice between guns or no guns. It’s the responsible choice,” McConaughey writes. “It’s the reasonable choice. It’s a quintessentially American choice: Where I have the right to be me, you have the freedom to be you and we have the responsibility to be U.S.”
Like countless other Americans who have rallied for greater gun legislation, McConaughey is right about needing a new plan of action — one that will exceed the status quo. Until the U.S. government establishes restrictions and safety measures that guarantee responsible gun ownership, the threat of gun violence will be a perpetual fear in our society, and people will continue to face danger in institutions that should instead offer refuge.
“It’s time for real leaders to step up and do what’s right, so we can each and all just keep living,” McConaughey writes.