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By W. Gardner Selby November 13, 2015

Pro-Ted Cruz PAC says Cruz 'stopped' Obama push for gun control after Sandy Hook killings

A group supporting Ted Cruz for president took a jab at another big-state Cuban American hopeful in a video ad that debuted before the Nov. 10, 2015, Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee.

The 60-second spot from the Courageous Conservatives PAC suggests that unlike Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida doesn’t have a record to celebrate. The group is a super PAC, meaning it may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from sources including corporations and unions to campaign independently for candidates for federal office.

We noticed this pro-Cruz claim in its ad: "After Sandy Hook, Ted Cruz stopped Obama’s push for new gun control laws."

The ad’s reference to the Dec. 14, 2012, shootings at a Connecticut school drew a rebuke from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who said the ad made him want to throw up, according to a news story in the Hartford Courant. Murphy said: "If Ted Cruz wants to brandish his pro-gun credentials to Republican primary voters, that's his right. But it's sick that he thinks he'll win votes by specifically pointing out that in the wake of 20 dead first-graders, he was the face of the fight to ensure no action was taken."

To be fair, Cruz doesn’t control the Courageous Conservatives PAC; that would be a legal no-no.

Still, did Cruz stop Obama’s gun-control plans, as the group says?

That seemed unlikely in that the Texan was only elected to the Senate a few weeks before a man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 20 children and six adults, prompting calls for stiffer gun laws from President Barack Obama and others.

We asked a PAC contact for its backup information. In a Facebook message, consultant Rick Shaftan said the ad was based on Cruz's comments in an Oct. 29, 2015, interview with Bret Baier, chief political anchor for Fox News.

Cruz told Baier: "Over two years ago, following the tragic shootings in Newtown, Conn., the Democrats came out with a massive raft of new gun control proposals. I led the opposition against it. … We defeated every one of those proposals on the floor of the Senate, defending the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms."

Cruz opposed gun-control proposals

To get a fix on Cruz’s role in the 2013 debate, we checked news accounts and the Congressional Record, which recaps each speech and floor vote.

On Jan. 3, 2013, the day he was sworn in, Cruz hammered his opposition to gun-control proposals, saying the tragic school shootings didn’t justify efforts to curb Second Amendment rights. "I think every parent who saw what happened in Newtown was understandably horrified," Cruz told reporters, but "I also think, predictably and sadly, within minutes of that horrific crime we saw politicians out trying to exploit that tragedy and to push their gun control agenda."

About a week later, Cruz responded to Vice President Joe Biden’s vow that Obama would use executive action where he could to help stop gun violence. Cruz said on Facebook: "Let us hope that this is just another one of the vice president's infamous gaffes and not another end-run of Congress and the constitutional balance of powers through unilateral action by the president. I stand ready to defend the Second Amendment and efforts to undermine our God-given rights."

Cruz subsequently stuck to his guns.

At a Jan. 30, 2013, hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for instance, the former solicitor general of Texas urged members to "be vigorous and unrelenting in working to prevent, to deter and to punish violent criminals. I have spent a substantial portion of my professional life working in law enforcement. And the tragedies that are inflicted on innocent Americans every day by criminals are heartbreaking, and we need to do more to prevent them.

"At the same time," Cruz said, "I think we should remain vigilant in protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. And I think far too often, the approaches that have been suggested by this Congress to the issue of gun violence restricts the liberties of law-abiding citizens rather than targeting the violent criminals that we should be targeting."

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On April 11, 2013, Cruz was on the losing end of a 68-31 Senate vote to let the body — which then had a Democratic majority — move toward considering a proposal to "ensure that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the national  instant criminal background check system and require a background check for every firearm sale." Some 16 Republicans joined Democrats in agreeing to proceed.

Six days later, though, the Senate blocked or defeated every major gun-control proposal championed by Obama, The Washington Post reported. A CNN news report said "fierce opposition by the powerful National Rifle Association led a backlash by conservative Republicans and a few Democrats from pro-gun states that doomed key proposals in the gun package, even after they had been watered down to try to satisfy opponents."

The failed proposals included attempts to ban certain military-style assault rifles and limit the size of ammunition magazines, the Post story said. "But the biggest setback for the White House was the defeat of a measure to expand background checks to most gun sales," designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, the story said.

The described proposal, presented by Sens. Joe  Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Penn., would have expanded criminal background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, but did not require them of family members and friends giving or selling guns to each other. It was seen as a compromise, replacing stricter language from Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013.

Senators voted 54-46 to proceed, but that margin still left supporters short of the 60 votes needed to ward off a filibuster. It wasn’t an entirely partisan split; several Republicans voted to proceed, several Democrats voted "no."

In other votes that day, the Post said, 40 senators supported a renewal of a federal assault-weapons ban and 46 supported limiting the size of ammunition magazines. In addition, an NRA-backed measure that clarified gun-trafficking laws fell short, with just 58 votes, stunning Democrats, the newspaper said.

Afterward, Obama blamed the NRA for stoking unreasonable fears. He also laid the blame on Republicans, the Post reported. "Ninety percent of Democrats in the Senate voted for that idea, but it’s not going to happen because 90 percent of Republicans just voted against it," Obama said.

Opponents maintained the Manchin-Toomey background check proposal eventually would have led to a national gun registry, though the proposal outlawed a federal registry. The opponents also said it would do little to prevent mass shootings while creating an imposition for law-abiding citizens, especially those in rural areas. The Post story quoted Cruz telling colleagues: "My biggest concern with the legislation, the Democrat legislation on the floor, is it doesn’t address the problem. It doesn’t target violent criminals. Instead, what it does is, it targets law-abiding citizens."

An alternate approach

Cruz was among the critical 46 "no" votes. He also separately joined Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in authoring a substitute proposal, reportedly supported by the NRA. At the substitute’s unveiling, according to a news story in The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper, Cruz said that while the Obama administration was continuing to "politicize a terrible tragedy to push its anti-gun agenda, I am proud to stand beside my fellow senators to present common-sense measures."

The Grassley-Cruz alternative did not impose background checks on transactions at gun shows or on sales over the Internet. But it would have provided incentives for states to submit relevant mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and required federal courts to do so. It also would have allocated money for prosecuting violations of the background check requirement. In the Senate, the Grassley-Cruz proposal was favored 52-46, hence stalling out due to the 60-vote hurdle.

Our ruling

The pro-Cruz PAC said that after the Sandy Hook shootings, "Cruz stopped Obama’s push for new gun control laws."

Actually, Cruz had company in stopping the Obama-supported push for new restrictions. Crucially, most Senate Republicans and a few Democrats kept the expansion of background checks favored by Obama from winning further consideration.

Still, we see an element of truth here. Despite just joining the Senate, Cruz frequently spoke out on the issue and shared authorship of an unsuccessful alternative to the failed background-check plan.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

News story, "Cruz sworn in as Texas’ newest senator," Austin American-Statesman, Jan. 3, 2013 (Nexis search)

News blog post, "Biden promises White House action on gun control," The Fix blog, The Washington Post, Jan. 9, 2013 (Nexis search)

Transcript, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy Holds a Hearing on Gun Violence, Senate Judiciary Committee, CQ Transcriptions, Jan. 30, 2013 (Nexis search)

News story, "Gun-control overhaul is defeated in Senate," The Washington Post, April 17, 2013

News story, "Senate rejects expanded gun background checks," CNN, last updated April 18, 2013

Senate vote to proceed to consideration of gun-related proposals, April 11, 2013, Congressional Record; Senate floor debate including votes on expanded background checks and a substitute proposal by Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ted Cruz, Congressional Record, April 17, 2013

Story, "Digging deeper on gun background check legislation," PolitiFact, June 3, 2013

News story, "Sens. Grassley and Cruz roll out alternative gun control bill," The Hill, April 17, 2013

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More by W. Gardner Selby

Pro-Ted Cruz PAC says Cruz 'stopped' Obama push for gun control after Sandy Hook killings

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