Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey has appeared at the White House to call on Congress to “reach a higher ground” and pass gun control legislation in honour of the children and teachers killed in last month’s shooting rampage at a primary school in his hometown of Uvalde in Texas.
In a highly-personal 22-minute speech on Tuesday, McConaughey used his star power to argue strongly for legislation, vividly detailing the loss of the 19 children and two teachers in the second-worst mass school shooting in the history of the United States.
McConaughey, a gun owner himself, called on Congress to bolster background checks for gun purchases and raise the minimum age to buy an AR-15-style rifle to 21 from 18.
“We want secure and safe schools and we want gun laws that won’t make it so easy for the bad guys to get the damn guns,” McConaughey said.
The actor, who earlier this year considered a run for governor of Texas before changing his mind, met briefly in private with President Joe Biden before addressing the White House press corps.
McConaughey has also met key legislators this week, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that handles gun legislation, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, and the panel’s ranking Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
McConaughey, who declined to take questions, spoke of his own connections to the town. He said his mother taught pre-school children less than a mile from Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School, the site of the May 24 shooting. He also noted that Uvalde was the place where he was taught about the responsibilities that come with gun ownership.
“Uvalde is where I was taught to revere the power and the capability of the tool that we call a gun,” he said.
‘People are hurting’
McConaughey said he and his wife drove back to Uvalde on the day after the shooting and spent time with the families of some of the victims and others directly affected by the rampage.
He said every parent he spoke to expressed that “they want their children’s dreams to live on”.
“They want to make their loss of life matter,” McConaughey said.
He related the personal stories of a number of the victims.
He told the story of 10-year-old Maite Rodriguez, an aspiring marine biologist. McConaughey’s wife, Camila, sitting nearby, held Maite’s green Converse shoes, which had a red heart on the right toe to represent her love of nature.
“These are the same green Converse, on her feet, that turned out to be the only clear evidence that could identify her after the shooting,” McConaughey said, his voice breaking.
He held up artwork from Alithia Ramirez, who dreamed of attending art school in Paris. And then there was Eliahna “Ellie” Garcia, who loved dancing and church and already knew how to drive tractors. Ellie was looking forward to reading a Bible verse at an upcoming church service when she was killed.
McConaughey acknowledged that gun legislation would not end mass shootings but suggested that steps can be taken to lessen the chances of such tragedies happening so frequently.
“We need to invest in mental healthcare. We need safer schools. We need to restrain sensationalized media coverage. We need to restore our family values. We need to restore our American values and we need responsible gun ownership,” McConaughey said.
“Is this a cure-all? Hell no, but people are hurting.”