The sheriff of one of Florida's largest counties confronted a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, calling her out for claiming to support the victims of last week's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during a heated CNN town hall Wednesday night.
“I understand you’re standing up for the NRA and I understand that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told the NRA's Dana Loesch. “But you just told this group of people that you are standing up for them. You are not standing up for them until you say, ‘I want less weapons.’”
Loesch had been fielding questions from survivors of the Valentine's Day shooting that killed 17 students and teachers at the South Florida high school, as well as from local teachers and relatives of the victims. As she argued that the gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, had slipped through cracks in the system that should have prevented him from purchasing the AR-15–style rifle used in the shooting, Israel interjected, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd of 7,000.
"An 18-year-old kid should not have a rifle. Bump stocks should be illegal," Israel said. "They should be outlawed forever. Automatic rifles should be outlawed forever. And anybody who says different — we're calling BS on that."
The strong condemnation of the NRA's position was notable, coming from a top law enforcement official in a state with some of the country's laxest gun laws. As Broward County's sheriff, Israel is arguably the most powerful elected official of Florida's second-largest county, overseeing 5,800 employees and an annual budget of $730 million in the largest accredited sheriff's office in the US. The NRA is a major partner for law enforcement agencies across the US.
It is not the first time that Israel has spoken out in favor of gun control. In 2013, shortly after being elected, he broke with the Florida Sheriffs Association on the state’s stand-your-ground law after the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Israel also called for tighter gun control measures last year after another mass shooting in Broward County, in which a gunman opened fire in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport baggage claim, killing five people.
In the town hall, Israel spoke out in favor of new gun laws, including banning the sale of bump stocks and assault weapons. He also came out against the idea floated by President Donald Trump of arming teachers to prevent mass shootings, saying that the job of protecting schools should be left to law enforcement. Earlier Wednesday, Israel announced that sheriff's deputies patrolling Broward County schools will now carry rifles, including AR-15s.
"We in this country, we need to do something different," Israel said. "I think what we need to do in America is do something and have less guns on our streets."
As Israel spoke, the sheriff's office tweeted lines from his remarks.
Loesch pushed back against Israel's comments, pointing out that law enforcement officials repeatedly missed signs that Cruz was violent and a danger to others, and cited sheriff's records showing that deputies were called to Cruz's home more than 35 times.
But Israel mostly deflected the criticism, saying that the sheriff's office was looking into how it handled tips about the alleged shooter and accusing the media of inaccurately reporting about his office's contact with Cruz.