Matthew McConaughey fought back tears as he spoke to reporters at the White House on Tuesday about meeting the families of the victims of the Robb Elementary School shootings in Uvalde, TX, his hometown.
The actor’s appearance in the White House briefing room, after he and his wife Camila met with President Joe Biden, was in many ways extraordinary, as he spoke movingly in tribute to the victims and their lives cut short, sharing deeply personal stories. Nineteen students and two teachers were killed when a gunman opened fire on their classroom.
The actor earlier this week published an op ed in the Austin American Statesman in which he called for a series of gun reform proposals, including background checks for all gun purchases, a minimum 21-year-old requirement for buying assault rifles, a waiting period for purchase and for nationwide “red flag” laws.
“We got a chance for, right now, to reach for and grasp a higher ground, above our political affiliations,” McConaughey said. “A chance to make a choice that does more than protect your party. A chance to make a choice that protects our country now and for the next generation.”
All three major cable news networks carried McConaughey’s remarks live, as he tried to vividly describe the personalities and aspirations of the victims. At one point, he spoke of Maite Rodriguez, 10, noting that she aspired to be a marine biologist who already had been in contact with Texas A&M at Corpus Christi, hoping to attend one day.
“Maite wore green high top Converse with a heart she had hand drawn on the right toe, because they represented her love of nature,” he said. His wife then held up the shoes.
“She wore these every day,” he said. “Green Converse, with a heart on the right toe. These are the same green Converse on her feet that turned out to be the only clear evidence that could identify her at the shooting. How about that.”
McConaughey’s message was that, despite perceptions that gun reform has divided the country, there actually is agreement on a set of reasonable measures. He told reporters, “Responsible gun owners are fed up with the Second Amendment being abused and hijacked by deranged individuals. These regulations are not a step back, they are step forward for a civil society and the Second Amendment.”
“I promise you, America, you and me, we are not as divided as we are being told we are,” he said in his 20-minute remarks.
As he finished his remarks, he said, “We start by making the loss of these lives … matter.” Reporters shouted questions at him, including one who asked, “Are you grandstanding sir?” But he did not answer and left the briefing room.
McConaughey also has been meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In his op ed, McConaughey wrote, “The need for mental health care, school safety, the prevalence of sensationalized media coverage, and the decaying state of American values are all long-term societal factors that must be addressed, but right now, we don’t have the luxury of time,” McConaughey wrote. “We need to focus on corrections and countermeasures that can also and immediately reduce the gun violence tragedies that have become too common in our country.”
A bipartisan group of senators is working on a package of proposals, while the House is planning to vote on a series of gun reform measures this week. But there is still considerable doubt as to whether any significant gun measures will pass, given the 60-vote threshold needed to advance legislation in the Senate. That is what doomed legislation back in 2013, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
McConaughey is the latest celebrity to visit the White House, as the administration draws on high-profile figures to pierce through the partisan media noise. Last week, BTS visited with Biden and appeared in a White House video, the subject of which was stemming Asian-American hate crimes, and the spot generated more than 6.4 million views. Selena Gomez visited the White House last month to talk about mental health.
The actor considered an independent bid for governor of Texas last year, but ultimately decided against it. McConaughey will appear on Fox News’ Special Report later on Tuesday for an interview with Bret Baier.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the decision to have McConaughey speak.
“He has a very personal connection to Uvalde,” she said. “He met with the family. He is from there, he was born there, he lived in Texas, and we thought hearing from him directly and using his platform is incredibly important. We all know …how important it is for folks, whether you are an actor, whether you are in the business sector, wherever you are, to use your platform, how critical and important it is.”