Ted Cruz denounces new gun restrictions as he argues with hecklers in Austin

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks with David Drucker, senior correspondent at the Washington Examiner, on Saturday at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. (Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune, Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune)

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U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz vehemently defended Texas’ gun laws at The Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday, engaging in a spirited debate with audience members about semi-automatic rifles, mass shootings and school security.

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Cruz, in an onstage conversation with the Washington Examiner’s David M. Drucker in Austin, blasted Democrats for their response to mass shootings, saying the party wants to take firearms away from law-abiding citizens.

At the conclusion of the interview, some attendees repeatedly booed and heckled Cruz as he answered an audience question seeking his ideas on how to limit or prevent mass shootings. Cruz, like many Republican officials, adamantly opposes a ban on semi-automatic rifles. He cited the example of Stephen Willeford, the man who grabbed a rifle and ran to First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs when he heard about a shooting there, helping to end the violence that left 26 victims dead.

“The weapon that Stephen used to stop that was an AR-15,” Cruz said.

Audience members accused him of not answering the question about how he would end mass shootings and frequently shouted over him as he discussed some of the eight mass shootings that have happened in Texas in the past 13 years.

But as crowd members shouted to the stage, the two-term senator pleaded for audience members to address the issue civilly, saying they could have a “rational discussion about what policy steps would actually work to stop them.”

“If the objective is to stop these crimes, gun control is singularly ineffective,” Cruz said. “When you disarm law-abiding citizens … [they] give up their weapons. The criminals don’t.”

When spectators applauded his allusion to Democrats’ gun control efforts, Cruz brushed the idea off, saying, “You can clap for that, except for the minor problem that it doesn’t work.”

The conversation happened about a three-hour drive from Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers were killed in May by an 18-year-old with an AR-15. In the aftermath of the shooting, many Uvalde community members and relatives of victims have called for raising the age at which Texans can purchase a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21. Cruz notably focused his proposed fixes on school security, calling for armed officers in schools to keep children safe and for limiting the entrance to schools to one door.

Those proposals have received pushback from people who say they would be logistically and financially prohibitive and who note that there were scores of armed officers on the scene in Uvalde within minutes of the shooting. Proponents of some gun restrictions say measures like safe storage laws, enhanced background checks and red flag laws, which allow courts to temporarily take guns away from people judged to be a danger to themselves or others, would be more successful in reducing gun violence.

In the wake of the Uvalde shooting, Cruz has pushed legislation that would provide funding to double the number of school resource officers and significantly increase mental health support at schools.

Cruz said people generally have misunderstandings of what constitutes an assault-style rifle and that politicians take advantage of that.

As he spoke, an audience member yelled out, “Violence doesn’t solve violence.”

“It actually is the only thing that does,” Cruz said. “Violence doesn’t solve violence? That is actually why the left wants to abolish police and why you see murder rates skyrocketing.”

The Texas Tribune Festival is here! Happening Sept. 22-24 in downtown Austin, this year’s TribFest features more than 25 virtual conversations with guests like Eric Adams, Pete Souza, Jason Kander and many others. After they air for ticket holders, anyone can watch these events at the Tribune’s Festival news page. Catch up on the latest news and free sessions from TribFest.

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