WASHINGTON — The actor Matthew McConaughey, a native son of Uvalde, Texas, took the lectern in the White House briefing room on Tuesday and spoke of learning, in his boyhood, “to revere the power and the capability” of a gun. He then told of the horror he felt at losing 19 school children in his hometown to a man with a rifle so high-powered that it disfigured many of their bodies beyond recognition.
Fresh off a meeting with President Biden, Mr. McConaughey echoed the president’s call for expanded background checks on gun buyers, new “red flag” laws and additional restrictions on the purchase of AR-15 rifles like the one used to kill 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde last month. He cast himself as a voice for responsible gun owners and described, in graphic detail, the horrors of gun violence.
“Children were left not only dead, but hollow,” Mr. McConaughey said, as he described meeting with the parents of slain children in Uvalde whose bodies had been “so mutilated that only DNA tests” or green Converse sneakers could be used to identify them.
“Yes, counselors are going to be needed in Uvalde for a long time,” he said.
The shooting is one of the deadliest school attacks on record and one of more than 200 mass shootings recorded in the United States so far this year. Just 10 days before the Uvalde shooting, a gunman fatally shot 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store.
Mr. McConaughey’s appearance at the White House came as a bipartisan group of senators tries to negotiate new legislation to respond to gun violence. Senators involved in the talks expressed muted optimism that they could produce some sort of legislation that might clear the evenly divided chamber, though it was certain to fall short of some measures, like a ban on assault weapons, that Mr. Biden has called for.
Mr. McConaughey, who also met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, said that he and his wife, Camilla, had gone to Uvalde the day after the shooting.
“You could feel the shock in the town,” he said. “You could feel the pain, the denial, disillusion, anger, blame, sadness. Loss of lives, dreams halting.”
He choked up as he spoke of meeting the parents of Alithia Ramirez, 10, who dreamed of going to art school in Paris, and how Alithia’s father, Ryan, had recently secured a higher-paying job, promising it meant that he would spoil her by taking her to Sea World.
Mr. McConaughey asked his wife to hold up the green hightop Converse sneakers worn every day by 10-year-old Maite Rodriguez, who hoped to study one day to be a marine biologist, and who had drawn a heart on the right toe to symbolize her love of nature. “These are the same green Converse on her feet,” Mr. McConaughey said, “that turned out to be the only clear evidence that could identify her after the shooting.”
He slapped the lectern. “How about that?”
He also described meeting with a cosmetologist who was experienced in applying mortuary makeup for open-coffin viewings. “These bodies were very different,” Mr. McConaughey said. “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.”
After a few minutes, Mr. McConaughey turned into politics. He called on the news media to reduce its sensational coverage of mass shootings. He repeatedly invoked a need for “responsible gun ownership,” including new regulations that Democrats have pushed in response to the shootings.
“We need to raise the minimum age to purchase an AR-15 rifle to 21,” he said. “We need a waiting period for those rifles. We need red flag laws and consequences for those who abuse them. These are reasonable, practical, tactical regulations.”
Mr. McConaughey, the star of films such as “Dazed and Confused” and “Dallas Buyers Club” and the “True Detective” television series, considered running for the governor of Texas last year but ruled it out in November, calling politics “a path that I ‘m choosing not to take at this moment.”
Emily Cochrane and Annie Karni contributed reporting.