Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., speaks during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 3, 2013 in Houston, Texas (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)
HOUSTON (USA TODAY) -- Sen. Ted Cruz brought a pro-Constitution, anti-crime message to the National Rifle Association's annual meeting Friday, challenging Vice President Biden to an hour-long debate on gun violence.
More than 6,000 NRA members gave Cruz, a freshman Texas Republican and a rising GOP star, a standing ovation for threatening to filibuster attempts to pass gun-control legislation.
Just a couple of months ago, Cruz said, the gun bill "looked like an unstoppable freight train." But that legislation is now in doubt after senators blocked an amendment last month that would have expanded background checks to include sales at gun shows and over the Internet.
"The Constitution matters. All of the Constitution," Cruz said. "It's not pick and choose. It's not take the parts you like and get rid of the parts you don't like."
Some senators have faced home-state protests for voting against that background check amendment last month. But Cruz said there ought to be protests against Democrats who voted against another amendment, which he sponsored with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that would have cracked down on violent crime. "Citizens ought to ask them, 'Why aren't you willing to support going after felons and fugitives who try to illegally buy guns?' " he said.
Cruz mocked Biden, who has taken the lead for the Obama administration on gun issues.
Biden's advice that firing a warning from a double-barreled shotgun is sufficient to ward off attackers would be "very useful - if it so happens that you're being attacked by a flock of geese."
Several opening speakers at the NRA's annual legislative forum took aim at President Obama, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and - above all - the media. The underlying theme: Political elites and the media don't understand gun-owning Americans.
"The lamestream media just doesn't get you, and you don't give up," said former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Wearing a black-and-pink "women hunt" T-shirt, she called the media "a poodle-skirted cheerleader" for Obama.
"The media and the political elites can lie about us and demonize us all they want, but that won't stop us," NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre said.
The annual meeting of the nation's largest and most powerful gun rights group is "the biggest celebration ever of our American values," LaPierre said. The event is expected to be the group's largest ever, with perhaps 70,000 people attending the gun exhibition that accompanies the annual meeting.
Among them: The Van Sweden family of Fort Worth, Ind. Bruce and Jenny Van Sweden took their 10-year-old daughter Catherine out of school for the day to listen to three hours of political speeches. "It's an education for her," Jenny said.
"I think the government is going crazy, and nothing they're talking about will change a thing," said Bruce. "The polls say, 'Are you in favor of background checks?' Yeah, I am -- the ones we already have."
The NRA is clearly feeling its oats after its big legislative victory last month.
The man who gets almost single-handed credit for that, NRA President David Keane said, is the group's chief lobbyist, Chris Cox. "Did anyone think in January or February that we'd be where we are today?"
Cox said politicians and the media were taking advantage of the shooting of 26 children, teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"Think about that, when a deranged criminal murders innocent children, they blame us," Cox said. "They use tragedy to restrict freedom, and it's up to us to stop them."
Opposition protests are scheduled for Saturday, but for most of Friday a single protester stood across the street from Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center and read the names of victims of gun violence since Sandy Hook. "We want the NRA to hear the consequences of their actions," said Heather Ross, a 27-year-old Austin woman who read the names from her iPhone. "The Second Amendment says we can regulate guns, and that's all we want to do."
Gregory Korte, USA TODAY