WASHINGTON — In an emotional appearance at the White House briefing room on Tuesday, actor Matthew McConaughey made an emotional appeal for greater gun control measures, at once evoking anguish and hope.
A native of Uvalde, Texas, McConaughey invoked the memory of the 19 children who were murdered there last month.
“How,” he asked, “can we make the loss of these lives matter?”
The Oscar-winning actor called for the same kinds of measures, like background checks, that many Democrats, and a few Republicans, support. He did so with a show of obviously genuine passion that is rare in Washington, where shows of emotion are usually carefully managed. Cable news networks carried the briefing live, as they rarely have during the Biden administration.
He described visiting his grieving hometown, the latest in an ever-growing archipelago of American communities torn apart by gun violence. “You could feel the pain, the denial, the disillusion, anger, blame, sadness, loss of lives, dreams halted," he said.
Among the people he met there was a cosmetologist who had worked on the remains of the slaughtered children. “They needed extensive restoration. Why? Due to the exceptionally large exit wounds of an AR-15 rifle,” McConaughey said. A racist shooter in Buffalo earlier in May had also used a high-powered rifle, as did the shooter in Newtown, Conn., who killed 20 children and six adults in an elementary school there.
Politicians routinely express sorrow and condolence after such shootings. Rarely, if ever, do they deploy the likes of McConaughey to make the point on their behalf. Before the briefing, he had a short meeting with President Biden, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
“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,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
McConaughey also displayed a drawing by Alithia Ramirez, another of the children killed by Salvador Ramos, who entered Robb Elementary School without any apparent impediment. Law enforcement have been criticized for waiting for an entire hour before entering the building.
McConaughey was in Washington, D.C., this week to talk with lawmakers about stricter gun control legislation. Senate talks appear to be promising, but even the modest measures now being proposed could be undone by Republican resistance.
“We can’t truly be leaders if we are only living for reelection,” McConaughey said at one point, a reference to the power of the gun lobby. Last week, Rep. Chris Jacobs, a Republican from upstate New York, said he would not run for reelection after facing backlash for voicing support for gun control.
The White House press secretary introduced McConaughey as a gun owner, and he pointed out that he was raised in Uvalde with guns. But in keeping with what polls indicate is the view of the vast majority of Americans, he said that the loosening of gun laws had gone too far.
“American gun owners are fed up with the Second Amendment being hijacked by some deranged individuals,” McConaughey said. Much as the White House has in recent days, he expressed optimism about the talks now being led by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
In a seeming concession to Republicans, he acknowledged that gun control alone would not solve the crisis of gun violence. “We need to invest in mental health care. We need safer schools,” McConaughey said. “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.”
The McConaugheys spent their morning on Capitol Hill, where they were hosted by Cornyn, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Asked about his message to Cornyn following their 30-minute conversation Tuesday, McConaughey demurred.
“That’s gonna be between me and him,” he said.
With additional reporting by Dylan Stableford.