AUSTIN -- A crowd of supporters cheered Senator Ted Cruz's arrival outside Central Texas firearm manufacturer LaRue Tactical's Leander workshop.
Meeting with media inside the shop known worldwide for manufacturing high-tech assault-style rifles, Cruz criticized proposals by President Barack Obama and Democrats to restrict their sale and the sale of high-capacity magazines under a renewed assault weapons ban.
"What we're seeing in Washington right now is political theater," said Cruz. "They want to show they care, and yet not a single one of these proposals that is being bandied about would have done anything to prevent the tragic and horrific shooting that happened in Newtown, Connecticut."
"We should focus our efforts on deterring and punishing violent criminals, and we should protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans," said Cruz. "That's where our energy needs to be focused, and no amount of stripping the rights of the men and women here to defend ourselves and defend our families will do anything to prevent violent criminals from carrying out horrific acts."
While insisting no empirical evidence has been shown to support the idea that stricter gun control laws reduce crime, Cruz voiced support for another proposal endorsed by Democrats and the president. Cruz pointed out many states have failed to participate in submitting mental health records to the federal government for use in background checks used in firearm sales.
"I think there's substantial room for bipartisan cooperation to work to encourage and help the states to report mental health records," said Cruz. "So people who have serious mental illnesses, people who are deranged, like sadly the killer up in Newtown, Connecticut, can be prevented from acquiring firearms. We ought to make that system work rather than finding ways to take away the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens."
The weapons used in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary were legally purchased by the shooter's mother. Along with Second Amendment concerns, Cruz also talked about coming under fire from members of his own party as the Senate's most outspoken freshman.
"Washington has a long tradition of trying to hurl insults to silence those who they don't like what they're saying," said Cruz. "I have to admit I find it amusing that those in Washington are puzzled when someone actually does what they said they would do."
Following highly publicized comments made by Tea Party Republican candidates such as Todd Akin and Richard Murdock during the 2012 election cycle, American Crossroads super PAC organizer Karl Rove announced a new strategy aimed to provide support to more "electable" conservatives in 2014 Republican primaries.
"I'll say this. Washington insiders have had a very poor record of picking winners in Republican primaries," Cruz said of Rove's rebranded Conservative Victory Fund. "We'll see what this PAC actually does. If this PAC ends up supporting conservative candidates in general elections to win in 2014 then that may be a positive thing."
Asked whether he agrees with the notion that some Tea Party candidates hurt the national Republican Party's brand, Cruz pointed to his own success in being elected as an initial long shot candidate over an opponent with significant advantages in statewide name recognition, political power and personal wealth.
"I agree that 2012 was a lousy year for Republicans and it was a lousy year across the board," said Cruz. "I think if insiders in Washington in either party think they are going to silence the people, they're going to get back to business as usual of spending money we don't have and racking up debt for the next generations then I think they're wrong."
Cruz's aggressive questioning of former Republican U.S. Senator and Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel sparked criticism from a number of fellow Republicans. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) singled out the junior Senator from Texas, telling the New York Times, "All I can say is that the appropriate way to treat Senator Hagel is to be as tough as you want to be, but don’t be disrespectful or malign his character."
Cruz briefly interrupted a scheduled tour to address the attention.
"I would again suggest as much as those in the media like to write stories attacking me and repeating the attacks of others leveled at me that it should be at least a relevant question to ask," Cruz said. "Was a nominee for secretary of defense paid $200,000 that in the words of Chuck Hagel's response was derived from a foreign government?"
"Chuck Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran, a man of tremendous personal courage and sacrifice as I've said many, many times," said Cruz. "He has consistently been the most antagonistic Senator in the entire U.S. Senate to the nation of Israel. He has consistently opposed sanctions, opposed any form of military deterrents to the nation of Iran to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons. He has refused to designate Hamas, Hezbollah or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as terrorist organizations. Now those are extreme views. Those are views that in my opinion are very relevant."
Born in Canada and the son of Cuban immigrants, Cruz also offered an opinion on the reaction following fellow Cuban-American Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). After conspicuously reaching for a bottle of water and taking a drink while delivering the official Republican response to the president's State of the Union Address on live television, the moment has become fodder for comic satire as well as political pundits and opponents.
"I think Democrats and the media are afraid of Marco Rubio because he is a smart, intelligent, conservative Hispanic, and they are looking for any excuse to attack him," said Cruz, who suggested criticism of Rubio was beyond pure partisanship. "It's not just a promising Republican. I think the Democrats view Marco Rubio as a particular threat because of his background, his life story. I think they believe it is in their interest to inflict as much damage as possible and to blow things wildly out of proportion."
The tour was Cruz's second visit to LaRue, a manufacturer of firearms for military and commercial clients that could be affected by the outcome of the national debate over gun control.
"We do have some of those features which are part of that ban," said marketing director Mark Fingar. "However, we would adapt. If that was made law we wouldn't be happy about it."
Cruz spoke with more supporters before setting out for the remainder of a two-day trip through Texas with stops near Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston.