"Unfortunately in Washington, emotion I think often leads to bad policies," said Cruz, a freshman elected with strong tea party backing.
Republicans blamed the nation's gun troubles on a list of maladies including a lack of civility, violent video games and insufficient attention to people with mental problems. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the panel, said that while he welcomed the renewed focus on guns, "The deaths in Newtown should not be used to put forward any gun control proposal that's been floating around for years."
Democrats countered that a need to improve gun restrictions was obvious. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said omitting gun limits from the debate "is like not including cigarettes when discussing lung cancer."
Republicans and the NRA are not the only hurdles that Democrats face in trying to push gun legislation through Congress this year. It is also unclear what several Democratic senators facing re-election in GOP-leaning states in 2014 will do, including Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee's chairman, said he hoped his panel would write gun control legislation next month, though he did not specify what it might contain. In his opening remarks, he voiced support for requiring broader background checks that would help keep criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining firearms, and he has also introduced legislation that would make it a federal crime for someone to purchase a gun for a person who would not be legally allowed to have one.
Giffords, a surprise witness, was helped to her chair as the hearing began by committee Leahy and others. She'd been working on her remarks for a week, but decided to deliver them Tuesday evening, said Pia Carusone, her former chief of staff who is now executive director for Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Kelly described the January 2011 attack on Giffords and others and described her battle to regain basic skills.
"Gabby's gift for speech is a distant memory," he told the senators. "She struggles to walk, and she is partially blind. Her right arm is completely paralyzed. And a year ago she left a job she loved serving the people of Arizona."
Toward the end of the hearing, Kelly said he had just gotten word of another Arizona shooting that occurred during Wednesday's session. That shooting in a Phoenix office building left three people wounded, and the shooter was being hunted.