"And get your gun," a woman interrupts.
"And get your gun," Balles appears to repeat, with audience laughter and applause intruding on his voice.
The remarks captured on video quickly drew criticism. But Balles believes he said something else - "it happened so quick."
"I recall saying, 'protect your guns,' " Balles said in a phone interview Friday about the video. The Second Amendment Society meeting, which Balles said was attended by other Republican candidates, took place earlier this month in Winslow Township.
"I watched it, and that's what I see myself saying," Balles said. "There's so much laughter and clapping. . . . I've never advocated for violence, and never will."
Told of Balles' explanation, Whelan said: "What video is he watching?"
"He said it," Whelan said in a phone interview. "He said something that was a failed attempt at humor - OK. But then to deny that he said it, when there's a videotape of him saying it. . . . That's the problem to me."
Whelan, a teacher who has served in the Senate since 2008 and who served one term in the Assembly, has long been involved in local politics. He served on the Atlantic City Council starting in 1982 and in 1990 became mayor, a position he held until 2001.
Balles spent more than 20 years as a police officer in Pleasantville before he was elected Atlantic County sheriff in 2008 in his first bid for public office, according to his campaign website. He also serves as president of the New Jersey Sheriffs' Association.
The New Jersey Democratic State Committee called on Balles to hand in his badge, saying the sheriff had "disgraced his uniform."
"Encouraging violence toward any elected official is bad enough, but when it comes from the head of a law enforcement agency, it's absolutely reprehensible," Justin Myers, executive director of the committee, said in a statement.
Balles, who said he saw the video after his wife noticed it on Facebook, dismissed the Democratic response as "a campaign tactic."
"I wouldn't say anything in a private setting that I wouldn't say in public," he said. "I'm not ashamed of anything I said."