As U.S. lawmakers grapple with gun-violence legislation in the wake of several deadly mass shootings, three distinct voices emerged in Washington on Tuesday making passionate appeals: the celebrity, the survivor and the grieving son.
Actor Matthew McConaughey — whose hometown is Uvalde, Texas, the scene of a deadly elementary school shooting two weeks ago — met with U.S President Joe Biden. Former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 in a mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., held a news conference in front of the Washington Monument. And Garnell Whitfield Jr., whose mother was the oldest of the 10 victims shot in a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store, testified before the Senate judiciary committee.
Here are their thoughts on what steps the United States should take on guns.
McConaughey made an emotional call for gun control measures after a brief meeting with Biden.
Nineteen children and two teachers were shot to death at Robb Elementary School in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 by an 18-year-old gunman who opened fire with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle.
“Uvalde is where I was taught to revere the power and the capability of the tool that we call a gun. Uvalde is where I learned responsible gun ownership,” the 52-year-old Oscar-winner told reporters.
He specifically called on Congress to bolster background checks for gun purchases and raise the minimum age to purchase an AR-15-style rifle to 21 from 18.
“While we honour and acknowledge the victims we need to recognize that this time seems that something is different,” he said.
McConaughey said he visited the White House to try to turn the moment into a reality.
Eleven years ago, Giffords, then a Democratic congresswoman, was shot in the head during an assassination attempt outside a grocery store in Tuscon, Ariz., leaving her critically wounded.
Six people were killed, including the state’s chief federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, by a 22-year-old gunman with a semi-automatic Glock 19 handgun. Gifford’s injuries left her with difficulty walking and occasional difficulty speaking.
Surrounded by more than 45,000 small vases of white and orange flowers representing each of the Americans killed by gun violence each year, Giffords held a news conference Tuesday and renewed her call for stricter gun laws.
“Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what’s right,” Giffords said. “We must never stop fighting. Be bold. Be courageous. The nation is counting on you.”
Giffords founded a gun violence protection group that is urging the Senate to pass legislation requiring universal background checks on all gun sales, to confirm Steve Dettelbach as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and for the Biden administration to develop a comprehensive strategy on gun violence.
The grieving son
Whitfield is the son of Ruth Whitfield, the oldest of 10 victims killed during a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 14. Police allege the 18-year-old gunman was motivated by racial hatred and violent extremism.
Whitfield testified in front of the Senate judiciary committee and implored lawmakers to take action against the “cancer of white supremacy” and gun violence.
“My mother’s life mattered,” Whitfield said. “Your actions here will tell us if and how much it mattered to you.”
Tuesday’s hearing focused on the ideology that authorities say motivated the young man charged to drive for 10 hours to a predominantly Black neighbourhood, put on military gear and live stream the shootings.
“What are you doing? You were elected to protect us,” Whitfield said during his emotional testimony.
“Is there nothing that you personally are willing to do to stop the cancer of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it inspires?” he asked.
“If there is nothing then, respectfully, senators, you should yield your positions of authority and influence to others that are willing to lead on this issue.”