Actor Matthew McConaughey, a native of Uvalde, Tex., urged lawmakers to act on gun control Tuesday in impassioned remarks delivered in a surprise appearance on the White House briefing room’s podium, adding another twist in the tumultuous debate over firearms that has roiled Washington in the wake of several mass shootings.
McConaughey emotionally told the stories of the 19 children and two teachers killed by a shooter at an elementary school in the small South Texas city on May 24. He said he and his wife, Camila Alves, spent most of last week with the victims’ families in his hometown.
“You know what every one of these parents wanted, what they asked us for? What every parent separately expressed in their own way to Camila and me? That they want their children’s dreams to live on,” McConaughey said. “They want to make their loss of life matter.”
The actor then called on lawmakers in Washington to take action on gun control as lawmakers try to forge a bipartisan congressional response to recent mass shootings. Expectations for a quick deal were fading Tuesday, even as those involved in the talks remained hopeful about the chances for an eventual agreement.
“Responsible gun owners are fed up with the Second Amendment being abused and hijacked by some deranged individuals,” McConaughey said. “These regulations are not a step back, they’re a step forward for civil society and the Second Amendment.”
McConaughey and Alves spent Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill, meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers to discuss gun control. He also met with President Biden before stepping into the White House briefing room with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who said the actor wanted to use his platform to deliver a message about common-sense gun measures.
The actor’s appearance reflected how the killing at the Texas elementary school, with its shocking number of young victims, has seized the country’s attention.
McConaughey, a household name from such movies as “Dazed and Confused” and “Dallas Buyers Club,” is not a political figure, but he flirted last year with running for governor of Texas, finally announcing in November that he had decided against it. “As a simple kid born in the little town of Uvalde, Texas, it never occurred to me that I would one day be considered for political leadership,” McConaughey said in a video at the time, adding that he would seek other ways to make a difference.
McConaughey gave few indications of his political leanings as he considered the campaign, saying at one point that he was more of a “folksy and philosopher poet statesman” than a politician. He did say that he would not mandate vaccinating young children against the coronavirus, and that his own two youngest hadn’t been immunized.
On Tuesday, he presented himself as a small-town Texan and gun owner who was introduced early to firearms, but who supports responsible gun ownership and takes issue with those who misuse the Second Amendment.
Lawmakers, he said, have a window of opportunity now to pass meaningful gun-control changes. The actor called for the creation of a waiting period for purchasing AR-15 rifles, as well as for raising the minimum age for purchasing that type of weapon to 21. He also called for universal background checks and red flag laws.
Gun responsibility, he said, is something most Americans “agree on more than we don’t.”
“This should be a nonpartisan issue,” McConaughey said. “That should not be a partisan issue. There is not a Democratic or Republican value in one single act of these shooters.”
In an interview with Fox News host Bret Baier following his White House appearance, McConaughey said his main take from his conversations with members of Congress was that something is different this time, in reference to new gun-control measures.
“The consensus word that I’m hearing and phrase is that this is different, that there is some more momentum,” McConaughey said.
On the right, he said, there are some things lawmakers are “willing to not staunchly say no to.”
“And on the left, they’re willing to say: ‘You know what, we may want the whole loaf, but, okay, we’ll take a slice of bread,’” the actor said.
“I’m told this is a novel thing happening right now,” he added.
The actor told reporters that his mother taught kindergarten less than a mile from Robb Elementary School, the scene of the shooting. Uvalde, he said, is the town where he “learned responsible gun ownership.”
Going back to his hometown in the wake of the shooting, he said, was shocking.
“You could feel the pain, the denial, the disillusion, anger, blame, sadness, loss of lives, dreams halted,” he said.
McConaughey also showed artifacts from the slain children, including a drawing made by one of the victims, Alithia Ramirez, 10, who had visions of going to art school in Paris, showing herself along with a friend looking down on her from heaven.
Another of the little girls killed, Maite Rodriguez, who was also 10, wanted to be a marine biologist, McConaughey recalled.
“Maite cared for the environment so strongly that, when the city asked her mother if they could release some balloons into the sky in her memory, her mother said ‘Oh no, Maite wouldn’t want to litter,’” he said.
Maite, McConaughey said, wore green high-top converse shoes “with a heart she had hand drawn on the right toe because they represented her love of nature.” Alves, sitting nearby McConaughey in the briefing room, showed a pair of the shoes.
“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.