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Matthew McConaughey: Oscar-winning actor pleads for stricter US gun control laws

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By Giulia Carbonaro  & AP
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McConaughey holds a picture or Alithia Ramirez, 10, who was killed in the mass shooting at the Uvalde elementary school last month.
McConaughey holds a picture or Alithia Ramirez, 10, who was killed in the mass shooting at the Uvalde elementary school last month.   -   Copyright  Evan Vucci/AP

Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey made an impassioned speech at the White House on Tuesday, pleading for stricter gun control legislation. 

The actor was born in Uvalde, the Texan city where, on 24 May, 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos killed 19 children and two teachers before being taken down by police - 78 minutes after he entered the school.

In a 22-minute speech -- where McConaughey appears to choke up and hold back tears -- the actor remembered the names of the children who died and asked for action on gun control legislation.

"While we honour and acknowledge the victims, we need to recognise that this time it seems that something is different," the actor said. "There is a sense that perhaps there's a viable path forward. Responsible parties in this debate seem to at least be committed to sitting down and having a real conversation about a new and improved path forward, a path that can bring us closer together and make us safer as a country, a path that can actually get something done this time.

“We want secure and safe schools and we want gun laws that won’t make it so easy for the bad guys to get the damn guns,” the actor pleaded, calling for bolstering background checks on gun purchasers and for raising the minimum age to buy an AR-15 style rifle, the same one used by the Uvalde shooter, from 18 to 21.

Ramos had reportedly bought the weapon he used in his rampage at Robb Elementary Primary School right after his 18th birthday.

In a heartbreaking moment, McConaughey talked about how one of the victims, 10-year old Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, was recognised by her shoes only, as her body was severely damaged by the wounds left by the AR-15 rifle's bullets. 

Susan Walsh/AP
The green Converse shoes that were worn by Uvalde shooting victim Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10.Susan Walsh/AP

"Maite wore green high top Converse with a heart she had hand-drawn on the right toe because they represented her love of nature," the actor said.

"Wear these every day. 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 after the shooting. How about that?" McConaughey said, slamming his fist on the podium in anger.

"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 test or Green Converse could identify."

While many praised the actor for using his visibility to take a stand on gun violence and gun control, some critics bashed him for glorifying the use of firearms in his films and for stepping out of what they suggested was his "place" - Hollywood. An unidentified reporter at the White House asked McConaughey after his speech if he was "grandstanding" - trying to attract attention to himself instead of the issue at hand. 

It was not the first time the actor intervened on the subject of gun control after the Uvalde shooting. On Monday, McConaughey wrote an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman entitled "It's Time to Act on Gun Responsibility".

In it, McConaughey, a gun owner himself, called for more gun control regulations while substantially defending the Second Amendment.

"I believe that responsible, law-abiding Americans have a Second Amendment right, enshrined by our founders, to bear arms. I also believe we have a cultural obligation to take steps toward slowing down the senseless killing of our children," he wrote.

"There is no constitutional barrier to gun responsibility," the actor added. "Keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous people is not only the responsible thing to do, it is the best way to protect the Second Amendment. We can do both."