Last night, I listened to Matthew McConaughey’s speech from the White House this week regarding the the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, and thought it was quite powerful. If your immediate response to that sentence was, “liberal Hollywood actor wants to take away our guns”, then think again.
Like me and many of you, McConaughey is a gun owner. He also generally agrees with Republican points of view regarding mental health, family values, and school safety as root causes of many mass shooting incidents, as do I. He doesn’t want to gut the 2nd Amendment, but does emphasize the importance of responsible gun ownership, and I don’t think many would disagree with that emphasis.
Uvalde is his hometown, so this tragedy, in which nineteen elementary school students and two teachers were killed on May 24th, struck McConaughey particularly hard. He said his mother taught kindergarten less than a mile away from Robb Elementary. He also said that Uvalde is where he first learned the fundamentals of responsible gun ownership.
McConaughey says, “In a bit of shock, I drove home, hugged my children a bit tighter and longer than the night before, and then the reality of what had happened that day in the town I was born in set in.” The morning after the tragedy, McConaughey, his wife, Camila, and their children, drove to Uvalde. There, they met with survivors, relatives of victims, first responders, morticians, and funeral directors.
In his speech, McConaughey went on to highlight many of the children lost in the tragedy, focusing on their extinguished dreams and the brave resilience of their families. As one example, he mentions Maite Rodriguez, a nine-year-old who dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. Camila McConaughey was holding a pair of green Converse tennis shoes during the speech, and reportedly these were the only clear evidence that could identify Maite immediately after the shooting.
Roy Guerrero, a pediatrician in Uvalde, reports seeing after the shooting, “Two children, whose bodies had been so pulverized by bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had been ripped apart, that the only clue as to their identities was blood-spattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them. Clinging for life and finding none.”
In testimony before Congress this week, eleven-year-old survivor Miah Cerrillo described the shooter saying “good night” before shooting one of her teachers in the head; how she saw several of her friends and classmates killed; and how she smeared herself with his blood and pretended to be dead.
McConaughey went on to suggest a few reforms which might garner bipartisan support, to include expanding background checks, raising the minimum age to purchase an AR-15 rifle to 21, imposing a waiting period for such rifles, and instituting red flag laws. Personally, I would support some of these reforms, and object to others depending upon the details, but the specifics of any gun reform proposals are beyond the intent of this post.
While it was a really powerful speech, I think McConaughey missed one opportunity. In 1996, he achieved breakthrough status as a serious actor in the movie adaptation of the John Grisham novel, A Time To Kill. In that film, he plays lawyer Jake Tyler Brigance, charged to defend an obviously guilty killer, Carl Lee Hailey, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
To make a long story short, Hailey’s daughter, Tonya, had been beaten, raped, and left for dead by two white men. Hailey (Jackson), knowing the two would likely be set free in the white-dominated Mississippi of the day, kills the two perpetrators in full view of many witnesses. Brigance (McConaughey) can’t discount what happened, but makes an emotional appeal to the all-white jury in his summation.
“I want to tell you a story. I’m going to ask you all to close your eyes while I tell you the story. I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to yourselves. Go ahead. Close your eyes, please.” He goes on to recount how Tonya was walking home from a grocery store, was grabbed by two men in a pickup truck, taken to a nearby field, tied up, raped, beaten, urinated upon, endured a failed lynching, and then thrown in a creek and left for dead.
At the end of his summation, he says, “Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood, left to die. Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. (Long pause.) Now imagine she’s white.” In this happy ending, Hailey is judged innocent.
For Uvalde, McConaughey might have concluded his speech in the same manner. “I want to tell you a story. I’m going to ask you all to close your eyes while I tell you the story. I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to yourselves. Go ahead. Close your eyes, please.”
“There were nineteen children dead, and two of their teachers. Two children were so pulverized by bullets, that the only clue as to their identities was blood-spattered cartoon clothes. One child could only be identified by their green Converse tennis shoes. Another child only survived by smearing themselves with the blood of classmates and pretending to be dead. (Long pause.) Now, imagine those were your children.”
We will, and should, scrutinize the details of any proposed gun reforms. What we should not do is begin with the reactionary pronouncements of the left or right in deciding which path to take. Begin in the middle, as McConaughey does. And, like McConaughey, I think we responsible gun owners should take the lead.
I would support some prudent gun reforms, but also think that most of those which might be politically possible will not make a huge difference. I definitely believe that we need to make a much greater investment in mental health care. Even more important, I think, is creating a healthier society. This includes working to narrow our economic and cultural divisions, healing the loneliness and sense of disconnection many are feeling, and generally being more kind and helpful to one another.
Again, imagine those were your children.