NRA: Do a better job investigating 'red flags' to prevent school shootings (VIDEO)

The National Rifle Association said law enforcement should do a better job investigating “red flags” in order to prevent school shootings like the attack that left 17 dead in Parkland, Florida last week.

Dana Loesch, an NRA spokeswoman, took the stage Wednesday at CNN’s Townhall devoted to the students, family and community members impacted by the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Loesch’s presence drew vitriol from the audience, including booing and heckling about the organization’s perceived role in mass shootings.

“I don’t believe that this insane monster should have ever been able to obtain a firearm,” Loesch said.  “I don’t think he should have gotten his hands on any kind of weapon. This individual was nuts. None of us support people who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others, getting a firearm.”

Loesch argued the nation’s flawed background check system and law enforcement’s failure to follow up on more than three dozen tips about accused gunman Nikolas Cruz’s concerning behavior — including threatening other students and bringing weapons to school — deserves closer examination.

FBI Director Christopher Wray admitted over the weekend the agency received a tip last month about the 19-year-old former student’s disturbing social media posts, gun ownership and homicidal tendencies — but did nothing about it. The agency declined to participate in the Townhall, citing the ongoing investigation.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said his office also fielded “numerous” tips about Cruz, though disputed media reports suggesting officers visited his home 39 times.

“Some (tips) we answered by phone, some were out of state, some we went out there,” he said. “Our command staffer went through these tips to make sure we did everything right. If we made a mistake, I’ll act accordingly and deal with it.”

Reports have surfaced indicating there were documented warning signs of Cruz’s mental instability, based on school records obtained exclusively by ABC 10 in Miami.

The Broward County School Board reviewed Cruz’s education plan in late 2015 while mulling a transfer from Cross Creek — the district’s school for emotionally and behaviorally disabled students — to Stoneman Douglas. The report indicated although Cruz showed signs of maturity, he still expressed a fascination with guns, killing others and “the armed forces.”

He also relied on psychiatric medication, struggled to make friends — sometimes making bad choices in pursuit of negative relationships — and exercised poor judgment in social settings, the report states. One incident ended in violence after Cruz used several racial slurs toward another student, an action Cross Creek officials say he never perceived as problematic.

“These are significant red flags that this is a very troubled young man,” said Dottie Provenzano, a former employee with Broward County Schools, during an interview with the news station. She expressed shock the district approved transferring Cruz  in January 2016 and suggested officials didn’t do enough to ensure a smooth transition. Cruz was expelled from the school last year for “disciplinary reasons.”

“If you make a movement with somebody like this, you better have an ironclad system of support to monitor him along the way,” she said.

Israel said current state statute ties law enforcement’s hands. He used CNN’s Townhall to push for strengthened gun regulations, including expanding the authority of police officers to involuntarily commit individuals and take away their firearms via Florida’s Baker Act.

“If we feel the totality of the circumstances rises to the level where we are concerned this person might be mentally ill, we need the power to take every firearm away from them and bring them to a mental health facility,” he said.

Loesch questioned why none of the tips about Cruz met the Baker Act threshold.

“They (students) were threatened with death. They were threatened that they were going to bleed. They were threatened that they were going to be killed,” she said.  “And he had already taken bullets and knives to school. And he already assaulted people. He assaulted his parent. He assaulted other students. 39 visits and this was known to the intelligence and law enforcement community. I’m not saying that you can be everywhere at once, but that’s why you have to follow up on these red flags.”

Israel shot back at Loesch’s criticism, telling the audience only one person is responsible for this act. “That is the detestable, violent killer,” he said. “He is responsible for this act. Nobody else but him.”

The contentious exchange between Loesch and Israel underscored an emotional day of action for the student-turned-activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s “#NeverAgain” movement. The group wants stricter gun laws in place at the state and federal levels, including expanded background checks and limits on AR-15-style rifles and accessories, such as bump stocks.

After spending a weekend meeting with survivors of the Parkland shooting, President Donald Trump returned to Washington and announced he directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to craft regulations banning bump stocks and all similar devices “that turn legal weapons in machine guns.” The decision comes after ATF opened a review of existing regulations on bump stocks in December — a move Loesch said the NRA first suggested in the weeks after the Las Vegas shooting.

“That is what the group’s position has been on that,” she said. “And they spoke about that before the president made a move and they spoke about it before Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an announcement too.”

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