Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was heckled at a Houston restaurant on Friday night, following his speech at the National Rifle Association’s convention, in which he broadly rejected proposals for gun control, days after the Uvalde school shooting.
“Why did you come here to the convention?” the man, later identified as Benjamin Hernandez, asked Cruz. “Why? When 19 children died!”
As Hernandez was pulled away by security officials, he said to Cruz: “That’s on your hands! That’s on your hands, Ted Cruz! That’s on your hands!”
Cruz waved goodbye to him before rejoining his family at their table.
Neither Cruz’s office nor the owners of Uptown Sushi immediately responded to requests for comment early Saturday.
Hernandez told The Washington Post that he approached Cruz because he hoped the senator would address his opposition to bills to require background checks of gun sales, which remain unlikely to pass in the Senate.
“I wanted to make him give me an answer about something so simple and basic as background checks,” said Hernandez, 39, a board member for Indivisible Houston, a liberal pro-democracy group that aims to hold elected officials accountable for their actions. “But it was as if he was deflecting responsibility from being a U.S. senator.”
Hours earlier, Cruz took to the stage at the NRA’s annual meeting in Houston, where he joined former president Donald Trump in rejecting proposals for new restrictions and calling instead for more school security or mental health screenings, while issuing dark warnings of alleged Democratic plots to take weapons.
“The elites who dominate our culture tell us that firearms lie at the root of the problem,” Cruz said in his address to the crowd Friday. “It’s far easier to slander one’s political adversaries and to demand that responsible citizens forfeit their constitutional rights than it is to examine the cultural sickness, giving birth to unspeakable acts of evil.”
While several performers and GOP lawmakers dropped out of NRA events following the massacre at Robb Elementary School, the Republicans who kept their speaking slots at the annual gathering were defiant, despite mounting public pressure. Protesters gathered outside the downtown George R. Brown Convention Center, about 300 miles from Uvalde, to demand gun control and answers from authorities.
In his remarks, Cruz said the shooting was “the ultimate nightmare for every parent” and accused Democrats of seeking to use the massacre as a pretext to “disarm Americans.”
He also suggested schools should have a single door guarded by armed police or trained military veterans — a plan that would appear likely to run afoul of fire safety laws requiring more than one exit in buildings. Cruz also called for bulletproof doors and locking classroom doors.
The remarks came the same day as the Texas Department of Public Safety acknowledged that police made the calamitous choice on Tuesday not to pursue gunman Salvador Ramos into a classroom where students were trapped. Officers waited outside in a hallway while panicked children inside repeatedly called 911 pleading for help, authorities said. Officials say Ramos emerged from a classroom closet firing at Border Patrol tactical agents entering the room.
Funeral preparations are underway for the 21 people killed by Ramos, 18, in the attack.
Officials have faced swelling outrage over how they handled the tragedy, particularly after revelations that parents had begged police outside to go in and confront the shooter sooner, only to be blocked from entering themselves.
Gun rights groups have given Cruz’s campaigns or political action committees more than $442,000 during his career, the most of any lawmaker between 1989 and 2020, according to Federal Election Commission data from 2021 cited by the nonprofit OpenSecrets.
Earlier in the week, Cruz stormed away from an interview after he was asked by a British journalist why mass shootings happen “only in America.” Cruz, who attended a vigil in Uvalde and greeted and hugged residents and family members of victims, took exception to Sky News’s Mark Stone when he asked, “Why does this only happen in your country? … Why only in America? Why is this American exceptionalism so awful?”
“You know, I’m sorry you think American exceptionalism is awful,” Cruz fired back. “You’ve got your political agenda. God love you.”
It’s far from the first time the Texas senator has been heckled in public.
In 2018, Cruz and his wife, Heidi, were shouted out of a Washington restaurant by members of a protest group opposing his support of Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court — a confirmation process that was interrupted by allegations that he sexually assaulted one woman and engaged in sexual misconduct with another as a teenager.
After Cruz traveled to Cancún, Mexico, in February 2021, while millions of Texas residents were without power and safe drinking water amid freezing temperatures, the senator was heckled by rapper Bun B at a Houston Astros playoff game.
“Where you going?” Bun B asked. “To Cancún?”
On Friday night, Hernandez started off asking for a picture with Cruz, who was dining with his family at Uptown Sushi, according to video. After the photo was taken, Hernandez turned to Cruz and asked what he could do to persuade the senator to support gun-control laws in the United States. When Cruz advised him to watch his address to the NRA convention, Hernandez wasn’t satisfied.
“Why can’t you support stronger gun laws in this country?” Hernandez asked.
Cruz, who looked into the camera phone and realized he was being recorded, again argued that his bill to harden school security would have helped prevent school shootings like the one in Uvalde. As Hernandez got more animated, a security official stepped between him and Cruz.
“You combine ignorance and hatred,” Cruz told him, according to video. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The situation grew more tense, with Cruz raising his voice in arguing that “my bill” would have stopped the shooting, video shows. Seconds later, Hernandez was pulled away by multiple people as he repeated his question about mass shootings: “Why does this keep happening?”
Knowing he was likely to get kicked out of the restaurant — which he was — Hernandez said he paid the bill for him and his wife ahead of time.
“I left the waiter a big tip,” he said, acknowledging the headache it probably caused the restaurant.
Hernandez said he feels awful for the families of the victims in Uvalde and what they’ve had to go through in recent days. He argued that he was doing his part in supporting them by confronting the Republican senator about what could be done to prevent the next Uvalde.
“Everything we have been doing hasn’t been working,” he said. “It might be uncomfortable and hard to do, but it’s a thing we have to do — we have to ask the hard questions.”
Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.