“To make the loss of these lives matter…”
That was the mission statement Matthew McConaughey opened with Tuesday when he appeared at the White House press briefing room to give a 20-minute speech recounting the 19 children and two teachers who were killed in the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24. He called for more restrictive gun laws that might have prevented the murder weapon, an AR-15 assault rifle, from being sold to the 18-year-old assailant. The remarks drew praise on Twitter, but also drew immediate condemnation from right-wing media, including by a Newsmax reporter sitting in the press room. You can watch the entire speech below.
McConaughey is a native of Uvalde himself, and he spoke about the small Texas town where he learned many of the values he’s taken with him throughout his life, including responsible gun ownership. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre introduced the actor as a gun owner himself, to establish that the changes the Biden administration is calling for are not at odds with the 2nd Amendment, but common sense restrictions designed to prevent military-grade firearms from falling into the wrong hands.
The actor’s comments resonated strongly on social media, where the speech trended on Twitter for several hours after it had concluded. Some have wondered if images of the slain children should be shown to the public to catalyze public resolve about instituting new restrictions on gun ownership, and though he did not show any images, some of the details he shared aimed for a similar result. He directed attention to his wife, Brazilian model Camila Alves, who held on her lap a pair of green Converse sneakers worn by 10-year-old victim Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, whose wounds were so severe that the only way she could be identified was by those sneakers.
McConaughey and Alves spent much of the past week in Uvalde, meeting with the victims’ families, and he shared stories of their time learning about those who had been lost. He said that when news of the shooting occurred, he had been on set, but he and Alves felt compelled to load up their truck and drive to Uvalde to share in the grief. His remarks at the White House were marked by genuine emotion, the actor choking up on several occasions and needing to pause to collect himself.
“We also met a cosmetologist, she was well versed in mortuary makeup,” McConaughey said. “That’s the task of making the victims appear as peaceful and natural as possible for their open-casket viewings. These bodies were very different. They needed much more than makeup to be presentable. They needed extensive restoration. Why? Due to the exceptionally large exit wounds of an AR-15 rifle. Most of the bodies so mutilated that only DNA tests or green Converse could identify them. Many children were left not only dead but hollow.
“We heard from so many people. Families of the deceased, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, Texas Rangers, hunters, border patrol, and responsible gun owners who won’t give up their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, and you know what they all said? ‘We want secure and safe schools and we want gun laws that won’t make it so easy for these bad guys to get these damn guns.’ So we know it’s on the table… We need responsible gun ownership. We need background checks. We need to raise the minimum age to purchase an AR-15 rifle to 21. We need a waiting period for purchasing that rifle. We need red flag laws… Responsible gun owners are fed up with the 2nd Amendment being abused and hijacked by some deranged individuals. These regulations are not a step back, they are a step forward for a civil society and for the 2nd Amendment.”
As McConaughey left the briefing room, however, Newsmax reporter James Rosen asked “Were you grandstanding just now, sir?” Newsmax is a right-wing cable news channel and website known for its close support of former president Donald Trump, and it’s consistent with their track record that its journalists would resist any so-called politicization of a mass shooting tragedy.
Watch the speech in its entirety: