Matthew McConaughey made an emotional plea for US lawmakers to pass gun control legislation during an appearance at the White House on Tuesday, where he urged Congress to “reach a higher ground”.
The Academy Award–winning actor called for bolstering background checks for gun purchases and raising the minimum age to purchase an AR-15-style rifle from 18 to 21.
“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.
His speech came in the wake of last month’s shooting rampage at an elementary school in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers.
In a highly personal 22-minute address, McConaughey exhorted a gridlocked Congress to pass gun reforms that can save lives without infringing on second amendment rights. McConaughey, a gun owner himself, used his star power to make the case for turning the horror of the moment into concrete action. “We are in a window of opportunity right now that we have not been in before. A window where it seems like real change can happen.”
McConaughey, who this year considered a run for governor of Texas before taking a pass, met briefly in private with Joe Biden before addressing the White House press corps in the James Brady briefing room.
McConaughey has also met with key lawmakers this week, including the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer; Dick Durbin, the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, which handles gun legislation; 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 had taught kindergarten less than a mile from Uvalde’s Robb elementary school, the site of the 24 May shooting. He also noted that Uvalde was the place where he was taught about 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.
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 had spoken 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 Maite Rodriguez, an aspiring marine biologist. McConaughey’s wife, Camila, sitting nearby, held Maite’s green Converse sneakers, 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.
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 a forthcoming church service when she was killed.
McConaughey acknowledged that gun legislation would not end mass shootings but suggested that more steps can be taken to avert such tragedies.
“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.”
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