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TV’s Dr. Phil backs gun reforms after Uvalde and Buffalo massacres

The TV host and celebrity psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw is wading into the gun violence debate as Congress mulls new legislation in the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, N.Y.

In an on-camera interview with The Hill, McGraw blasted those who argue that modest gun control laws amount to infringements on Second Amendment rights. 

But he also contended that there was a need for a “mind shift” when it comes to spotting psychological or behavioral warning signs that hint someone may commit violent acts. Better public education around those traits would lead to more effective acts of intervention, he asserted.

McGraw, whose show “Dr. Phil” is in its 20th season, was pointed in his remarks, especially for someone who has been perceived as a largely apolitical figure during his decades in the public eye.

While saying that he understands why people are “sensitive” about the constitutional right to bear arms, he was scathing about the idea that this should preclude incremental steps such as raising the legal age to buy semi-automatic weapons.

The alleged shooter in Uvalde is reported to have bought two AR-15-style rifles to celebrate his 18th birthday.

“You can stop politicizing and pretending that this is about the Second Amendment,” McGraw said, regarding those who resist any changes in the law. “You can at least raise the limit [of] buying a weapon of war from 18 to 21. A young man’s brain isn’t even fully developed until at least 25.”

“Universal background checks? How does that in any way impair someone’s Second Amendment rights?” he added. “Cool-down periods, red-flag laws? These things don’t impinge on our Second Amendment rights. And I think that is a straw man to say that they do.”

McGraw, who has spent much of his life in Texas and was speaking to The Hill from his home in Dallas, said that when he first heard the news of the massacre in Uvalde on May 24, he thought of his grandchildren. At 10 and 12 years old, they are roughly the same age as the 19 children who were shot dead in Uvalde.

“You immediately personalize and go to what it would mean to you if this hit, in your family, with such innocent children,” McGraw said. “And you just ask yourself — what’s it going to take for us to wake up as a society, and recognize that we have to do something to get these kinds of things under control? Because if we can’t do what’s necessary to keep our children safe, we’re failing as a society.” 

The mass killing in Uvalde came just 10 days after ten people were gunned down in an apparent racist attack in Buffalo, N.Y. The suspect in the Buffalo case was charged with domestic terrorism and 10 counts of first-degree murder on Wednesday.

McGraw, most famous for his TV work and bestselling advice books, holds a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the University of North Texas. He worked as a licensed psychologist in Texas until moving to California while pursuing his TV career.

He argued that there is a considerable body of research showing clear markers of people who might be at risk of committing violence. Those signs include traumatic experiences in childhood, experiences of rejection such as bullying or recent romantic break-ups and mental illness more broadly.

Millions of Americans, he acknowledged, suffer those kinds of experiences without ever committing violence.

But McGraw also said that many potential shooters tell others their plans in advance — a phenomenon termed “leakage” that, he argued, reflects a conscious or unconscious desire for other people to stop them carrying out such acts.

He cited the example of the alleged shooter in Buffalo, who is reported to have boasted about a propensity for violence — including saying while still at high school that he wanted to commit a murder-suicide after graduating.

McGraw argued that such threats were not taken seriously enough because of the perception that the people who commit mass shootings are somehow ‘other,’ unlike anyone that might be encountered in day-to-day life.

While McGraw noted that mass shootings are self-evidently “monstrous,” he said of would-be perpetrators that “if you write them off just as monsters, you will miss a lot of these people who are at risk for doing this.”

The TV personality, who first came to fame as a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s show, added that there was a need for massive investment to ensure law enforcement personnel, teachers and the general public would be on the look-out for warning signs.

While supporting some curbs on gun ownership, he also cautioned that those measures alone would not be enough to stem the tide of violence — especially given that there are hundreds of millions of firearms in circulation in the United States already.

“What are we going to do to start managing the risk of those guns being in the hands of the wrong people? … You can’t make that go away. They’re already there,” he said.

McGraw expressed his own “frustration,” saying that he believes the political system has so far “failed miserably” to grapple with the problem.

“This is happening over and over and over again. And we don’t seem to be reacting to it — certainly not in a way that is bringing about any effect.”

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