HOUSTON — Members of the National Rifle Association gathered in Houston on Friday at their annual convention to listen to a wide array of national figures — but it was Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz who got the warmest welcomes.
While Perry used his time at the George R. Brown Convention Center to talk up Texas' gun-friendly nature and again call for weapons manufacturers to come to Texas, Cruz let loose on his critics with both barrels. He even challenged Vice President Joe Biden to an hour-long debate on gun control.
In his introduction, Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA's policy wing, praised what he saw as Perry’s calm and steely nerve in the anti-gun atmosphere of the last several months.
“In this year, when we’ve seen other governors rush to restrict our freedom,” he said, “we’ve seen him expand it.”
Taking the stage over video footage of himself shooting targets, Perry boasted more broadly about Texas' economy. Referring to the last national NRA convention in the state — eight years ago — Perry said that a lot had changed since members had visited last. “There’s a lot more people than there were," he said, "and the vast majority of 'em are working.”
But some things remain the same, Perry added: “The governor of Texas is still a proud lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.” In Texas, he said, “we believe in the God-given right for people to have peace of mind to defend themselves and their family.”
Perry accused advocates for greater gun control of taking political advantage of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., saying that when “someone clearly impaired and filled with hate commits a terrible crime, you can almost set your watch by the time it takes for people who hate guns” to leap into action.
He also praised the NRA’s ability to calm what he said was an irrational populist urge to act in the wake of tragic events.
“The National Rifle Association is the voice of reason, the voice of common sense,” he said. “It’s a strange notion that with the stroke of a pen, the president could prevent something from happening in Colorado or Connecticut or even Texas. Nobody likes gun violence, especially NRA members.”
When it came time for Cruz to take the stage, Cox was unequivocal about why Texas' junior senator had been invited.
“He’s making life miserable for the gun-ban lobby,” he said.
Cruz has received much credit for helping to defeat the Senate’s recent gun control proposals. After convention organizers rolled on C-SPAN footage of a gun bill hearing where Cruz asked U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a series of pointed questions, Cruz took direct aim at his critics.
“The senior senator from California explained to me that she was not a sixth grader,” he said. “Well you know, I’m not a sixth grader either.”
Cruz accused the Obama administration of loosely interpreting the Second Amendment, and said that extended to the rest of the U.S. Constitution too. And he stressed that tough action on violent crime is needed, and argued that the federal government and municipal governments have fallen down on the job.
“The president’s hometown, Chicago, which is ravaged by violent crime, ranks dead last in prosecuting gun crime,” Cruz said.
Cruz touted his own gun proposal, which he developed with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, as an alternative to the one offered by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Penn. He said his plan, which emphasized enforcement of existing laws and an increase in school security measures, was railroaded by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“That bill was the most bipartisan of any of the pieces of comprehensive legislation that was voted on by the Senate,” he said. “But Harry Reid and the Democrats filibustered the bill and demanded 60 votes.”
As he wrapped up, Cruz offered a challenge to Biden – a strong proponent of greater gun control — “to engage in an hour-long conversation and debate, on how we stop crime.”
A representative from Biden's office could not immediately be reached for comment.