Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey has called on the US 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 Texan hometown.
In a highly personal 22-minute speech on Tuesday (US time), McConaughey exhorted a gridlocked Congress to pass gun reforms that can save lives without infringing on the US’ Second Amendment rights.
McConaughey, a gun owner himself, used his star power to make an argument for legislation in a fashion the Biden administration has not been able to muster, offering a clear connection to Uvalde and vividly detailing the sheer loss of the 19 children and two teachers in the second-worst mass school shooting in US history.
He specifically 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, met briefly in private with President Joe Biden before addressing the White House press corps.
McConaughey has also met key politicians 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.
Also on Tuesday, the son of Ruth Whitfield, an 86-year-old woman killed when a gunman opened fire in a racist attack on Black shoppers in Buffalo, New York, last month, called on Congress to act.
“Is there nothing that you personally are willing to do to stop the cancer of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it inspires?” Garnell Whitfield Jr asked members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
McConaughey said his mother taught kindergarten only a couple of kilometres from Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School, the site of the May 24 shootings.
The actor, who won the 2014 Oscar for his lead performance in Dallas Buyers Club, said he and his wife drove to Uvalde the day after the massacre and spent time with the families of some of the victims.
He said every parent he spoke to expressed “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 some of the victims, including Maite Rodriguez, an aspiring marine biologist.
McConaughey’s wife, Camila Alves, 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 also held up artwork from Alithia Ramirez, who dreamed of attending art school in Paris. And then there was Ellie Garcia, who loved dancing and church and already knew how to drive tractors.
The 52-year-old acknowledged gun legislation would not end mass shootings but suggested steps could be taken to reduce the chances of such tragedies.
“We need to invest in mental health care. We need safer schools. We need to restrain sensationalised media coverage,” he said.
“We need to restore our family values. We need to restore our American values and we need responsible gun ownership.
“Is this a cure-all? Hell no, but people are hurting.”