The Senate Judiciary Committee wrestled with the issue of gun violence in the wake of mass shootings in Boulder, Colorado, and Atlanta, Georgia, agreeing that they need to take action but vociferously disagreeing on what that action should be.
The debate was illustrated by differences between Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who both expressed the need to pass legislation, while being at odds over what that should look like.
"Inaction has andmade this horror completely predictable," Blumenthal said in reference to Monday's shooting in Boulder. "Inaction by this Congress makes us complicit."
The Democrat suggested that measures, including expanded background checks, protections for domestic violence victims and safe storage standards, should be passed to protect Americans.
Blumenthal also dismissed Republicans, saying that "thoughts and prayers are all we've heard from the other side."
Cruz agreed that the Senate should act, but slammed his colleagues for a pattern of responding to tragedies with proposals for ineffective legislation.
"Every time there’s a shooting we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders," Cruz said, later adding that "what happens in this committee after every mass shooting is Democrats propose taking away guns from law-abiding citizens, because that's their political objective.
Cruz also rejected Blumenthal's assertion that Republicans only offer thoughts and prayers instead of real action, pointing to a bill Cruz sponsored alongside Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in 2013 and again in 2019. The Grassley-Cruz bill, he mentioned, targeted felons, fugitives and those with "serious mental disease," and would keep them from purchasing weapons.
The bill would also create a task force to prosecute those who attempt to illegally buy guns. According to a representative from Cruz's office, the bill also requires U.S. Attorney's offices to designate at least one federal prosecutor for gun cases, and provides $15 million to hire more prosecutors and agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Cruz noted that in 2013, his bill received 52 votes on the Senate floor despite a Democratic majority, with nine Democrats supporting it. He recalled that the bill ultimately failed because Democrats – including Blumenthal – filibustered it.
Cruz accused Democrats' proposals of creating a risk of yielding "more victims of crimes, not less" by taking guns away from potential victims. He said he intends to reintroduce the bill now and called on Democrats to not repeat their "shameful filibuster" from 2013.
Later in the hearing, Blumenthal pushed back against Cruz's bill, claiming that it "has a number of poison pills" that led to his opposition.
"For example, it would only prohibit straw purchases if prosecutors could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the purchaser knew that the recipient was prohibited from buying a gun or knew the person intended to use it for a crime," Blumenthal said.
"That is an impossible standard," he said, contrasting it with the "reasonable cause to believe" standard that was included in a 2019 bill from Sens. Patick Leahy, D-Vt., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Blumenthal acknowledged that Cruz's bill has "some good provisions," but claimed the "poison pills" were too much.
President Biden on Tuesday called for the Senate to pass gun control legislation, including an assault weapons ban following the shooting that left 10 dead in Boulder.
Biden said he did not "want to wait another minute, let alone an hour," to act on gun violence.