• Politics
  • Guns

Matthew McConaughey, a Uvalde Native, Delivers an Emotional Speech at the White House

3 minute read

Matthew McConaughey punched a fist down in anger on the lectern of the White House Briefing Room on Tuesday, filling the crowded space with a jarring boom, as he described how authorities in Uvalde, Texas, needed to take DNA from a girl’s green sneakers to confirm her identity amid the carnage.

The Hollywood star and Uvalde native showed raw emotion as he addressed reporters two weeks after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers. President Joe Biden invited McConaughey to the White House at a moment when Biden is trying to keep pressure on Congress to advance gun legislation in the wake of last month’s school shooting in Uvalde, which came ten days after the targeted killing of black people by a white supremacist at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. The killers in both mass shootings used semi-automatic rifles and high capacity magazines.

McConaughey’s eyes welled up as he described receiving text messages from Uvalde the day of the shooting, and conversations he had with families of the victims when he visited the town where he grew up. Relatives of those killed repeatedly told him they wanted life-saving changes to come out of their loss. “Make the lives of those lost matter,” McConaughey pleaded.

As a child living in Uvalde, where his mom taught kindergarten, McConaughey said he learned the value of “responsible” gun ownership and to respect the power of weapons with such deadly power. It took him two years to master a Daisy BB gun, he said, before he “graduated” to a 410 shotgun.

It has been nearly three decades since Congress has passed significant new gun laws. McConaughey urged Congress to not wait any longer, arguing that such a move by lawmakers would promote more responsible gun ownership and, in doing so, strengthen the Second Amendment. He called for expanding background checks, raising the minimum age to purchase an AR-style semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21, and instituting a waiting period for such purchases. He also pushed for the adoption of so-called red flag laws that keep people with criminal records and documented mental health problems from buying guns.

“Responsible gun owners are fed up,” McConaughey said. “These regulations are not a step back; they are a step forward for a civil society and the Second Amendment.”

At the Capitol, five Republicans and five Democrats have been in talks about how to move forward with some legislation to help prevent mass shootings. Expectations have been kept low. The lawmakers are not even discussing banning assault weapons, as Congress did for 10 years in 1994. Instead, discussions are circling around more funding for mental health programs and school security, as well as ways to encourage more states to adopt red flag laws. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, met with Biden on Tuesday to brief him on where the negotiations stood.

McConaughey also met with Biden on Tuesday, speaking with him about gun law reforms and what McConaughey had heard from families in Uvalde. Before visiting the White House, the Oscar-winning actor walked the halls of Congress, meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and visiting the office of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

After McConaughey left the briefing room, a member of the White House staff stepped up onto the podium to examine the wooden lectern McConaughey had struck. There wasn’t a dent or a crack, the official said. “It was worth checking,” the staff member said.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com