(CNN) — Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis aggressively pushed back Thursday against a man who blamed him for the deaths in a racially motivated attack in Jacksonville last month.
“I did not allow anything with that,” DeSantis – also a 2024 Republican presidential candidate – said to the man. “I’m not gonna let you accuse me of committing criminal activity. I’m not gonna take that.”
DeSantis was taking questions Thursday morning following a news conference focused on his anti-Covid-19 mandate policies in light of an uptick in new cases. The man, who first thanked DeSantis for his military service, quickly moved to criticize him, saying the governor “allowed people to hunt people like me.”
It is unclear from the taping of the news conference who the man is and if he represents any particular outlet or group.
The Florida governor has eased gun restrictions in his state, including signing a bill that allows the carry of concealed weapons without a permit. And as he looks to secure the GOP presidential nomination next year, DeSantis has positioned himself as a more conservative alternative to Donald Trump on the issue of guns.
The Jacksonville community is still reeling from the deadly rampage late last month that killed three Black people. On August 26, a White gunman first went to a historically Black university before open firing at a Dollar General a few minutes later using two, legally purchased firearms, CNN previously reported.
DeSantis condemned the attack at a vigil the following day, adding, “We are not going to let people be targeted based on their race.” He pledged state funds to the community and the university.
But the man pointed to the state’s relaxed gun policies, telling the Florida governor that he is “one of the Americans who does not agree” with all of the policies he’s enacted and that he has “allowed weapons to be put on the streets” that led to people’s deaths including the recent Jacksonville shooting.
“That is nonsense, that is such nonsense,” DeSantis said animatedly. “We’ve done more to support law enforcement in this state than anybody throughout the United States.”
“The notion that we’re not supportive of safety is absurd,” he added.
As the large pool of GOP presidential hopefuls look to ramp up their campaign following Labor Day, DeSantis is nearly 30 percentage points behind Trump and the governor’s backing has dipped by 8 points since June, a recent CNN poll showed.
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