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Cruz, Sadler Hunting For Votes As They Spar Over Gun Rights

U.S. Senate candidates Ted Cruz and Paul Sadler are trying to position themselves as defenders of a great Texas tradition: gun ownership. 

Both say they oppose a new ban on owning assault weapons, and both Republican Cruz and Democrat Sadler have provided KERA with photos of themselves with guns.

But the issue continues to smolder following last week’s debate where they tangled over the Second Amendment. Sadler in particular is still fired up about it.

“Don’t accuse me of being against the second amendment when you don’t know me. That’s baloney. I’m not going to stand for it,” Sadler said two days after his shoot out with Ted Cruz over guns, hunting and the Second Amendment. He wanted Texas voters to know he is an avid hunter who strongly supports gun ownership.

During an interview with KERA, Sadler rattled off the weapons in his personal arsenal to prove it.

“I have a Sako 306 and a Sako 270. I have a Weatherby 300 I went elk hunting with. I have a Remington shotgun but my primary shotgun is a Benelli shotgun”, said Sadler as he went on to name three or four additional guns.

Sadler’s argument with Cruz over guns began in a bizarre way during last week’s debate. The moderator was pressing Cruz to answer a question on immigration when the Republican shifted direction and took aim at Sadler.

“Mr. Sadler has opposed Second Amendment rights. I have championed second amendment rights,” Cruz charged.

Sadler fired back.

Sadler: Do you even own a gun, Ted?

Cruz: I do.

Sadler: Do you hunt?

Cruz: (no answer)

The two continued to argue with Cruz correctly claiming Sadler voted against concealed handgun legislation when he was in the Texas House of Representatives.

Sadler says he voted against the 1993 bill because the legislation would have made it a crime to hide the gun in a purse or vehicle glove compartment.

“I thought it was a problem for people to be charged with criminal conduct when they didn’t deserve to be,” Sadler said.

Meanwhile, Sadler challenged Cruz to prove his Texas heritage by revealing whether he hunts. When Cruz didn’t answer that question during the debate reporter Bud Kennedy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram asked again during a press conference.

“Tell us what you hunt and do you believe a U.S. Senator from Texas should hunt,” he asked.

“That’s an issue he’s trying to raise. I’m focused on the issues,” Cruz answered saying he did not want this issue to become a distraction.

SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson says the importance of literally “hunting for votes” is as old as Texas politics.

“Being a gun owner and a hunter is just one of those boxes under the column Texan you have to check,” said Jillson.

“LBJ used to hunt with the big ranchers in South Texas. Dolph Briscoe hunted his own extensive lands in South Texas and every politician since including Ann Richard had to prove her bona fides with a shot gun and a dove on the other end of it.”

In 1994, for example, Governor Richards and her opponent George W. Bush were locked in a close race. On the first day of dove hunting season both shouldered shotguns and put the birds in their sights. Richards hunted every year. Bush borrowed a gun then accidentally shot an endangered killdeer and was fined $130.

Bush still won the election and Jillson says that underscores a point. In a red state like Texas the National Rifle Association nearly always backs the Republican. In this race the NRA has endorsed Cruz. Jillson says most Second Amendment voters just assume Republicans won’t support gun restrictions.

“A Republican just has to be for gun ownership even if they don’t know which end of the gun the bullet comes out of,” said Jillson.

Still Sadler is steamed over Cruz attacking him on this issue and he wants Cruz to fess up. What kind of weapon does he own? If he hunts, what does he hunt?

“It’s not a prerequisite for being a senator,” said Sadler, “but if you are going to accuse me of not defending the Second Amendment I want to know how serious you are about it.”

The Cruz campaign responded to KERA by saying  law abiding citizens are not required to disclose the fire arms they own but “anyone unlawfully entering his (Cruz’s) home is likely to encounter a .357 magnum.”

A spokesman added that Cruz had hoped to dove hunt over Labor Day but his hectic campaign schedule prevented it.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.