This post has been updated.
RED OAK, Iowa — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said Friday that Democrats are using the shooting deaths of nine people in a Charleston, S.C., African American church as an "excuse" to try to roll back gun rights.
"It’s sad to see the Democrats take a horrific crime and try to use it as an excuse not to go after people with serious mental illness or people who are repeat felons or criminals but rather try to use it as an excuse to take away the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens," Cruz told reporters after a town hall event here.
"Those are altogether different issues and we need to focus on protecting our Bill of Rights and also on keeping everyone safe."
Cruz said it is evocative of a line used by Chicago Mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
"I’ll tell you it’s reminiscent of Rahm Emanuel who said you never let a good crisis go to waste," Cruz said.
Cruz said, as he did Thursday, that he is "horrified" by the killings and offered his prayers to the families of the victims.
"A sick and deranged man went and prayed for an hour with the congregants in an historically black church and then, for reasons that we don’t fully understand murdered nine innocent souls," Cruz said of Dylann Roof, who was charged with nine counts of murder. The nine victims were shot Wednesday night inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the South’s oldest African American church.
"Sadly there is evil in the world and there is evil in the world that has to be dealt with. We’ll find out more about this crazed gunman and what led this to happen."
Roof confessed to police, a law enforcement official said, and wanted his actions known. In an extraordinary display at Roof's bond hearing Friday, relatives of the dead offered him forgiveness.
A reporter for The Huffington Post asked Cruz why it has been "difficult" for Republicans to "acknowledge that the attack was racially driven."
Cruz said he disagreed with the premise of the question.
"It appears to be racially driven from what was reported that this deranged man said and a racial hate crime is horrific. And any murder is horrific," Cruz said. "I don’t think we should be using this question to try to divide people and to try to seek partisan advantage. I think we should be praying for those who lost loved ones."
Cruz said earlier that Democrats like to "go after our rights to keep and bear arms" and there has been a "consistent pattern" from the Obama administration and Democrats of violating the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
During the town hall event Cruz defended Second Amendment rights and used a quip he tailors for the states he is visiting on campaign trail: "The great thing about the state of Iowa is pretty sure y'all define gun control the same way we do in Texas: hitting what you aim at."
Cruz is scheduled to attend a "celebrate the Second Amendment" event in Iowa Saturday. He recalled going to a gun range in New Hampshire recently that had a fully automatic machine gun on a tripod. His wife Heidi, whom he described as a "petite California blond," fired the machine gun while wearing a "pink baseball cap that said 'armed and fabulous,'" he said.
At a campaign stop in Denison, Iowa, a man in the crowd asked Cruz about his views on the Second Amendment in the wake of the shootings. Cruz again said he was horrified and offered prayers. Cruz again said that Democrats "sadly and predictably" use tragedies as an "excuse" to go after the Constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.
"When the tragic school shooting happened at Newtown and President Obama again didn’t use it to go after violent criminals or felons but used it as an excuse to come after the Constitutional rights of law abiding citizens," Cruz said.
Cruz then laid out ways that he defended the Second Amendment, including writing a pro-second Amendment amicus brief on behalf of 31 states that he submitted to the Supreme Court while solicitor general of Texas. The Supreme Court overturned the District of Columbia's ban on handguns in the case, District of Columbia v. Heller.
The Texas Republican also said after the Newtown shootings he helped block gun control legislation.
"I led the fight in the Senate to stop that effort to undermine the Second Amendment," he said, asserting that he helped mobilize millions of people on the issue. "When those anti-gun proposals came to the floor of the Senate every single one of them was voted down."