Cruz: Obama can’t be trusted on background checks because drones, I.R.S., reporters

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Cruz, speaking with reporters. (Reid Pillifant)
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Ted Cruz isn't so much afraid of background checks as what the Obama administration might do with them. 

"If it were passed, the next day the argument from the Justice Department, from the Obama administration would be, this legislation is utterly ineffective because we don't have a registry," he said, in an interview following his address to New York State Republicans. "And I think a registry would be deeply inconsistent with the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. I think we need to protect the entire Constitution, the entire Bill of Rights."

Cruz offered a long defense of an amendment he offered with Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, which served as a Republican alternative to an amendment offered by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, which would have expanded background checks to include guns purchased online and at gun shows.

Asked about the provisions in the Manchin-Toomey amendment that specifically prohibit the establishment of a federal gun registry, Cruz offered a slippery-slope argument, citing recent reports about the administration's surveillance of reporters, its use of drone strikes, and the I.R.S. targeting of Tea Party groups.

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"The Obama administration has shown a distressing willingness to disregard the Constitution, whether it's the Second Amendment or the First Amendment, in intruding and seizing the records of reporters, or whether it is the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment, concerning drone strikes, concerning privacy, concerning I.R.S. politically minded investigations and audits. And I believe all of us, whether Republicans or Democrats, should cherish and protect the Constitution."

Here's the full (mostly one-sided) exchange, which began when I asked Cruz whether he thought pressure from Mayor Michael Bloomberg would cause of any of his Senate colleagues to change their votes on the Manchin-Toomey amendment:

SEN. CRUZ: You know, at the end of the day, that is up to each of the senators. What I would point out is the most bipartisan and comprehensive gun legislation that was introduced in the Senate was the Grassley-Cruz legislation. That received 52 votes, a majority of the Senate, including 9 Democrats voted for it. And unlike the Democrats bill, which was targeting restricting the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms of law-abiding citizens, the Grassley-Cruz law enforcement alternative focused instead on fixing the problem and going after violent criminals.

So number one, the Obama administration has not made it a priority to prosecute felons and fugitives who try to illegally buy guns. In 2010, over 48,000 felons and fugitives tried to illegally purchase guns, the Obama Justice Department prosecuted just 44 of them. 44 out of 48,000. Number two, the Obama Justice Department has decreased the prosecution of violent gun crimes by 30 percent. And number three, President Obama slashed funding for school safety by over $300 million dollars. So what Grassley-Cruz, the bipartisan bill did, was allocated $50 million to prosecuting felons and fugitives who try to illegally buy guns, allocated $45 million dollars to prosecuting violent gun crime and restored $300 million in school safety funding that had been cut by the Obama administration.

Unfortunately, the Democrats, in a decision that I think can only be explained as the result of cynical partisan politics, voted against that bill because apparently their view is, if the Senate was not going to restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens, then Harry Reid and other Democrats in the Senate did not want to prosecute felons and fugitives, did not want to prosecute gun crimes, did not want to imiprove school safety. It is my hope the Senate will go back and pass Grassley-Cruz, which on any objective measure, would do much, much more to prevent violent crime, to stop another tragedy like Newtown, than would the effort that was pushed on a partisan basis by Democrats in the Senate.

CAPITAL: But it wouldn't cover online sales, it wouldn't cover gun show sales. Do you think those checks are an infringement—they already exist in gun stores. Why would they be an infringement?

SEN. CRUZ: What the legislation that the Democrats pushed in the Senate would have done is extended the existing background check system, which right now applies to any sales from a federally licensed firearms dealer to private citizens. And the Obama Justice Department has been very explicit that if you extend that requirement to private citizens, to one individual selling a hunting-rifle to another individual, that the only way for that private restriction to be effective is the creation of a federal firearms registry, a federal list of every firearm owned by every law-abiding citizen. That's what the Justice Department has explicitly said--

CAPITAL: Even though the bill makes it a crime to establish that?

SEN. CRUZ: It purports to do so. But if it were passed, the next day the argument from the Justice Department, from the Obama administration would be, this legislation is utterly ineffective because we don't have a registry, and I think a registry would be deeply inconsistent with the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. I think we need to protect the entire Constitution, the entire Bill of Rights. The Obama administration has shown a distressing willingness to disregard the Constitution, whether it's the Second Amendment or the First Amendment, in intruding and seizing the records of reporters, or whether it is the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment, concerning drone strikes, concerning privacy, concerning I.R.S. politically minded investigations and audits. And I believe all of us, whether Republicans or Democrats, should cherish and protect the Constitution.

But most fundamentally on this gun issue, if the objective is to stop violent crime and I've spent the majority of my adult life working in law enforcement, working to stop violent criminals that would take the life of the innocent, the way to do so, the way that's actually effective is to target felons and fugitives and gun crime and school safety, all of which the Obama administration has cynically neglected. That's where the focus should be and I hope the Senate comes back and passes Grassley-Cruz, puts resources to prosecuting felons and fugitives. And I would suggest to our friends here in the media, the next time the question comes up, and a Democrat politician is pushing for expanding the restrictions on law-abiding citizens, a question that might be worth asking, is do you think it is acceptable that out of 48,000 felons and fugitives in 2010 that tried to illegally buy a gun, the Obama Justice Department prosecuted only 44. I think that's completely unacceptable.

I think it is indefensible, and nothing has changed, despite a great many news conferences from the president, he has not changed as far as I know, the prosecution priorities of the Justice Department. The way to stop violent crime is to prosecute felons and fugitivies and violent criminals and that's what we should be doing and that's what I'm working on.