Ted Cruz is skeptical about red flag provision in federal bipartisan deal on guns

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks to members of the media outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 25. (Sergio Flores For The Texas Tribune, Sergio Flores For The Texas Tribune)

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Tuesday weighed in on the bipartisan Senate gun deal that is being championed by fellow Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

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Cruz told reporters on Capitol Hill that he was waiting for the details of the legislation before making up his mind. But he expressed concerns about aspects of the proposal that would encourage states to pass red flag laws, while calling efforts to boost school safety a “natural avenue for bipartisan agreement.”

“We’ve seen consistently whenever there is a horrific criminal event that Democrats’ top priority is not stopping the bad guys, not stopping the criminals, but rather disarming law-abiding citizens,” he said. “If that’s what they try to push with this proposal, I think that would be a serious mistake.”

The tentative deal, for which Cornyn was the lead negotiator, includes a mix of modest gun control proposals and funding for mental health services. It would incentivize states to pass red flag laws, which are designed to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others; boost funding for mental health services, telehealth resources and more school security; permit juvenile records to be incorporated into background checks for purchasers under the age of 21; and crack down on the straw purchase and trafficking of guns.

Cornyn started mobilizing in the Senate around the legislation after the horrific school shooting last month in Uvalde, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers.

So far, the legislation has been outlined only in broad strokes.

Cruz was most skeptical about the red flag provision of the legislation.

“I have real concerns about the Democrats’ efforts to push so-called red flag laws,” he said. “They have the potential to be a vehicle to disarm law-abiding citizens without protecting due process. So the statutory text on that topic will be particularly important.”

He said he could envision some bipartisan support on school “hardening” provisions, even as he took a swing at Democrats.

“Enhancing school safety would be a natural avenue for bipartisan agreement,” he said. “The political problem for Democrats is it wouldn’t further their partisan agenda of undermining the Second Amendment.”

Cruz is one of the top recipients of NRA donations in the Senate and consistently fights off attempts to limit gun access. Cornyn, Texas’ senior senator, also touts an A+ rating from the NRA, but in recent years he’s positioned himself as willing to cross the aisle for very limited legislation in response to mass shootings.

Cornyn already has lined up nine other Republican senators who have signaled support for the deal — enough to break through a filibuster.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, lent support to the deal.

“I’m comfortable with the framework and if the legislation ends up reflecting what the framework indicates, I’ll be supportive," McConnell told reporters Tuesday at his weekly press conference.

Democrats are signaling that nearly any Senate-passed gun bill — even a modest one — will receive a positive reception in the House. On Sunday afternoon, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement confirming as much.

Eric Neugeboren contributed to this story.

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