Sen. Ted Cruz, fresh off the stage at the National Rifle Association’s convention in Houston, sat down to a sushi dinner that was interrupted on Friday by a fellow Texan who confronted the Republican lawmaker over his hard-line stance on firearms, three days after 21 people were gunned down at an elementary school in the state.
The end of the confrontation saw the man shouting above security officers walking him toward the door.
“Nineteen children died! That’s on your hands! Ted Cruz, that’s on your hands!” he says in video of the incident.
The man, Benjamin Hernandez, told HuffPost that he was in Houston because his digital advertising company was livestreaming the protests staged outside the NRA convention. When he saw Cruz walk into the same restaurant where he was having dinner, Hernandez said, he thought, “Oh, hell no.”
“A couple of days ago, I had caught that clip of Beto [O’Rourke] confronting [Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott, and I wrote something to the effect of, ‘Confront all these hypocritical assholes like Beto did.’ And it’s really easy to tweet, right?” Hernandez told HuffPost. “But then two days later, Ted Cruz is walking in this space where I am, and it’s like, OK, I have to go talk to him now.”
Although other Republican lawmakers dropped out of the NRA event after the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Cruz kept his scheduled appearance, delivering a speech where he argued guns were not to blame for the deadly incident.
At the restaurant, Hernandez pretended to pose for a picture with his arm around Cruz while a friend began surreptitiously recording a video that captured him turning to Cruz to talk about gun policy after the fake photo.
“You know, I would encourage you ― I gave about a half-hour speech today at the NRA convention ― I encourage you to watch it,” Cruz can be heard responding.
Hernandez, speaking quickly, implores him to explain his stance on gun control in the wake of the Uvalde shooting where 19 children and two adult teachers were killed.
“Background checks ― is that so hard?” he says.
Cruz glances back at the person filming, appearing to realize what’s going on, then tells Hernandez, “OK, you don’t want to listen.” Hernandez then stops speaking, allowing Cruz to say that Democrats’ proposals, which he did not define, would not have stopped the shooter. Eighteen-year-old Salvador Ramos, who died at the scene, waited until his birthday to legally purchase two AR-15 rifles and more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition.
Hernandez then tells Cruz: “You can make it harder for people to get guns in this country. You know that. You know that. But you stand here, you stand at the NRA convention ― it is harder, it is harder when there are more guns to stop gun violence.”
At that point, security officers position themselves between Cruz and Hernandez, escorting him to the door.
The two-minute video was shared by Indivisible Houston, a progressive activist group, which identified Hernandez as a board member. Another patron of the sushi restaurant captured the interaction from another angle, as Cruz’s security began forcibly leading Hernandez away.
“The time for civil discourse and debate ― when they allow it, which they don’t ― that’s over, to me,” Hernandez told HuffPost.
He continued: “It is uncomfortable. Yes, it was uncomfortable for me to go and do that ― that’s not me. My mom was even surprised that I dropped the F-bomb. But this week has had me dropping F-bombs, because I’m just so incensed that they would stand there and not do anything about it.”
He said what surprised him most about Cruz’s reaction was how “canned” it seemed ― Cruz had given the same response about Democratic proposals to a Sky News reporter who pressed him on gun control measures earlier in the week.
“You’re directing me to your 30-minute speech, and you just can’t answer a simple question? Background checks, can’t we start there?”
While a bipartisan group of lawmakers has started working toward a compromise on gun control measures, Congress has largely failed to pass meaningful reform in the face of repeated mass shootings over the last decade. A bill to expand background checks passed the House but is stalled in the Senate, where it is not expected to pass due to Republican opposition.