Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) spoke at the National Rifle Association convention in Houston on Friday ― three days after a gunman killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers in his state ― to argue that guns were not to blame for the latest mass shooting.
“It’s a lot easier to moralize about guns and to shriek about those you disagree with politically. But it’s never been about guns,” Cruz said, after listing some possible other culprits, such as “broken families, absent fathers, declining church attendance, social media bullying, violent online content ... chronic isolation, prescription drug and opioid abuse.”
The senator went ahead with his planned speech to the NRA despite the school shooting in Uvalde, carried out by a gunman who used an AR-15-style rifle purchased legally days after his 18th birthday.
“The entire state ― the entire country ― is horrified and grieving,” Cruz said of the Uvalde shooting. “And it is an evil that has happened too many damn times.”
Patrick said in a statement that while he still backs gun rights, he did “not want my appearance today to bring any additional pain or grief to the families and all those suffering in Uvalde.”
Several national lawmakers also skipped the convention, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who cited a scheduling issue, and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who said he will be on an overseas trip to Ukraine.
Guns are banned at the NRA convention, but they’re allowed almost everywhere else in the state.
Earlier this week, Cruz suggested fewer school doors as a solution to mass shootings like the one in Uvalde.
“One of the things that everyone agreed is, don’t have all of these unlocked back doors,” he told Fox News Wednesday. “Have one door into and out of the school and have ... armed police officers at that door.”
Cruz again argued the case for more armed officers on Friday, as news continues to trickle out about the police in Uvalde failing to respond quickly to children’s pleas for help when they were locked in a room with the shooter.
“Ultimately, as we all know, what stops armed bad guys is armed good guys,” Cruz told the NRA.
A bipartisan group of senators began meeting this week to discuss other ideas, including more stringent background checks, proposals to bolster school safety, and “red flag” laws that allow authorities to temporarily seize firearms from people who have been determined to be a danger to themselves or others.
If they manage to reach some sort of deal, which has long eluded them, any legislation is likely to be narrowly tailored because of overwhelming GOP opposition to popular gun reforms.
The Senate left town for its Memorial Day recess on Thursday, with lawmakers offering faint promises about bipartisan legislation on guns. Democrats have vowed to hold votes on House-passed legislation to expand background checks after senators return to Washington on June 6, if the talks don’t bear fruit.
Cruz said he wants to see action to stop shootings by “stopping the bad guys,” and blamed Democrats for the failure of one of his bills, introduced with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
But more than discussing solutions, Cruz spent his time speaking derisively of Democrats ― particularly for proposing measures meant to decrease gun violence ― and calling them elites with “limitless” resources.
Laws themselves are pointless, he suggested.
“The law-abiding citizens follow the law, but the criminals do not,” Cruz said. “That is why they’re criminals.”
Elise Foley contributed reporting.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.