NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — When NRA Spokeswoman Dana Loesch took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Thursday, about a week after a deadly school shooting in Florida, she did not dance around the issue of gun rights.
On Wednesday night, Loesch held back some of her fiery rhetoric during a CNN town hall with students from the Florida high school recovering from a mass shooting. But 12 hours later, she gave a no-holds-barred speech to the conservatives present at the annual CPAC event.
Loesch and NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre were some of the first major speakers to address this year’s CPAC, but their names left off the schedule at the last minute. Though their speaking time was kept quiet, the NRA leaders did not hold back in.
In their Thursday speeches, both executives appropriated the main refrain of one of the most outspoken survivors of the Parkland shooting: high school senior Emma Gonzalez. In a speech at a rally that went viral, Gonzalez listed claims made by the NRA about the ineffectiveness of gun control and chanted after each one, “We call BS!” Loesch and LaPierre wove the “we call BS” call into their CPAC speeches, using the phrase to attack both the FBI and advocates of gun control.
Loesch also used the majority of her time on the CPAC stage to go after the press.
“Many in legacy media love mass shootings,” Loesch said, glaring toward the back of the auditorium where hundreds of reporters sat in a filing center. “Now I’m not saying that you love the tragedy, but I am saying that you love the ratings.”
She accused the media of rushing to cover “crying white mothers” after mass tragedies while ignoring black mothers impacted by gun violence in Chicago.
Loesch mentioned members of the media sitting in the back of the room several times, telling the press that she will not stop defending the rights of gun owners.
After railing against media coverage of shootings, Loesch pivoted to an attack on the FBI, which she accused of dropping the ball on stopping several mass shooters. Her comments echoed Trump’s attack on the FBI earlier this week.
“We will not be gaslighted into thinking that we were responsible for a tragedy that we had nothing to do with,” Loesch said to loud applause in the crowd, with several conference attendees giving her a standing ovation.
She singled out former FBI Director James Comey for blame, saying he spent too much time talking to former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and writing memos.
“Maybe if you politicized your agency less and did your job more we wouldn’t have these problems,” she said.
In his address, LaPierre also lamented “the unbelievable failure of the FBI,” and accused those calling for restrictions on gun purchases in the wake of the Parkland school shooting of “shameful politicization of tragedy”
“As usual the opportunists wasted not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain,” he said, pointing to Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) as a leading voice calling for gun control. “There’s been break-back speed of calls for more gun control laws in the midst of genuine grief. ”
LaPierre did not mention that some of the loudest voices calling for gun control over the past week have been the student survivors themselves, who amid their mourning have organized and advocated on the state and national level and have specifically demanded politicians cut ties with the NRA.
But most of LaPierre’s speech was dedicated to calls for more armed security at schools as a way to deter or prevent school shootings, echoing President Trump’s suggestion Wednesday that teachers be trained to carry firearms.
“Our jewelry stores, our banks, our airports, our NBA games, they’re all more protected than our children at school,” LaPierre said. “Does that make any sense to anybody? Do we really love our money and our celebrities more than our children?”
“God help us if we don’t harden our schools and protect our kids,” he said.
LaPierre said that “schools must be our most hardened targets in this country,” and the NRA executive repeated an infamous line from his speech after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
“I said five years ago after that horrible tragedy in Newton, and I wish, oh God I wish, more had heeded my words. So lean in, listen to me now, and never forget these words: To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.”