Matthew McConaughey reflects on Uvalde, says gun reform debate is 'vicious, uniquely American' and 'political'
Matthew McConaughey is reflecting on the Uvalde school shooting more than four months after the tragedy in a new essay for Esquire. The Oscar winner, who grew up in the Texas town, detailed the emotional trip back home that ultimately sent him on a gun-reform mission to Washington, D.C.
"I learned just how frustrating politics can be," McConaughey declared.
Nineteen children and two teaches were massacred at Robb Elementary School on May 24. McConaughey learned about the shooting, which occurred "less than a mile from where I went to school and my mom taught kindergarten," after a long day on set.
"I'm sickened by the spate of mass shootings in America — especially those at schools, which are supposed to be some of the safest of spaces for our children and the closest extensions of our own homes. But this time felt different, more personal," the actor began.
McConaughey and his wife Camila immediately went to in Uvalde, which he remembers as "eerily quiet and intensely civil." After meeting with many of the victims families, the actor "began to think about my own relationship with guns."
"Uvalde is also where my dad introduced me to my first firearm, a Daisy BB gun. I was nine, and I still remember the sober tone he assumed while presenting it. 'This is a tool, son,' he said. 'It can feed you, and it can take a life. You must give it full respect.' He instilled in me the rules of engagement: barrel management, muzzle control, safety catch, secure storage, the awareness of what’s behind your target," the Wolf of Wall Street star recalled. "He taught me responsible gun ownership."
McConaughey emphasized that he supports the Second Amendment.
"I believe we should have access to guns for hunting, sport, and self-defense. I believe all firearm purchases should be subject to an extensive background check, and unless you're in the military, you should be twenty-one to purchase an assault rifle. I believe that extreme risk protection orders, or 'red-flag laws,' that respect due process should be the law of the land and that firearm-safety courses should be mandatory," he wrote.
"Most of my friends and neighbors in Texas agree with these positions, and many of them also agree that our Second Amendment rights have been getting hijacked by troubled men with bad intent," McConaughey continued. "It seems we have forgotten that our rights come with obligations — what's more, that our rights depend on our fulfillment of those obligations. To do nothing is more than irresponsible; it's un-American. Our firearm policy is failing us, and we are failing it."
McConaughey noted he's "not a politician" and doesn't "speak their language," but sees where our elected officials are failing.
"Yet the push and pull between gun-rights supporters on one side and gun-control supporters on the other is vicious, uniquely American, and, yes, very political," he said. "What I did have at that moment were the raw, firsthand accounts of the Uvalde families we'd spent time with. I recalled one constant from those conversations, a wish each and every parent expressed to us: I just want my child's death to matter.' Each time, the emphasis had been on the last word."
After meeting with politicians at the state level, McConaughey was told he had to go to the nation's capital if there was any hope of getting something done. The actor's publicist connected him with a "D. C.-based political advisory team." He and his wife got a "crash course in congressional maneuvering."
"Everything, I learned, is a negotiation," he said.
"As much homework as I'd done, I knew better than to present myself as some self-taught gun-policy guru. I reminded myself, 'McConaughey, you're not here to be an expert. You are here as a conduit for sharing stories from the front lines in Uvalde. Seek common ground in the opposing arguments presented to you, and use that to weave a strong case for sensible change,'" the actor continued.
"On our first night in town, Camila and I hosted a dinner at a Georgetown restaurant for a bipartisan group of members of the House and Senate," McConaughey said. They began the dinner with "a gratitude circle, the same ritual I learned as a child in Uvalde and have maintained since." The actor said it broke the ice and "for this one meal, political enemies were listening to one another as human allies."
The dinner lasted three hours, and while he didn't divulge who attended, McConaughey noted "opinions were openly but civilly argued."
"More than once, I heard an attendee say to their colleague, 'I had no idea that's why you felt that way," he shared.
During his visit, McConaughey met with President Joe Biden and delivered a powerful speech through which he shared stories about the victims in a plea for gun responsibility. Weeks later, Congress passed the biggest bipartisan gun legislation in three decades.
"Does the bill solve everything? Hell no. No law will heal Uvalde, or any community that suffered a similar tragedy. Does it move us in the right direction? Yes," McConaughey said. "When we spoke to the families in the wake of the bill's passage, they expressed gratitude. It won't bring their kids back, but it does make them feel like, to some extent, their government finally listened. That their kids' dreams now have a better chance of inspiring others and helping keep our children safe."
McConaughey continued, "Did our efforts make an impact? I've been told they did. Part of me hopes that’s true. But another part of me is frustrated that we could have an impact. We didn't show up on the Hill with a new invention or a groundbreaking argument. We just helped frame the discussion in reasonable ways so that all sides could digest it."
McConaughey said he "learned a lot" in that four day trip to D. C.
"I arrived in Washington with such a reverence for our government and those who run it. While I'm not going to say that I lost that reverence, I did see the most powerful legislators in America playing an implicit political game, one they seemed to be handcuffed to, even systematically imprisoned by, as if it were the price of entry," he wrote.
McConaughey believes most Americans "don't stand on the political fringes."
"We are reasonable and responsible, and we share more values than we're being told we do — and we believe that meeting each other in the middle is in service of the greater good. We have the majority. We have the numbers," he said, encouraging people to "take the megaphone back from the extremists who've been manufacturing these false fractures among us."
"Democrats don't have a trademark on empathy, just as Republicans don’t have a patent on self-reliance. Values are free-trade assets, meant to be exchanged and adopted across party lines and amongst us all. America can thrive only when all sides answer the call and all arguments end in a comma. We'll find common ground when we reach for higher ground," McConaughey declared.
The award-winning actor concluded by saying change needs to start at home.
"If we want safer communities, more freedom, and better leaders, we’re gonna have to build better people," he said.
"Sometimes you have to go back to actually move forward. To revisit where you came from, and where you have been, to see where you are going. Look after your roots, look after your family, look in the mirror. Ask yourself what you value, and answer. Or, more simply, just come back home."
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