Adam Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the state’s governorship, declared his candidacy on May 10, 2017, from the steps of a courthouse in his hometown outside of Tampa.
“People want leadership that’s conservative,” he said at the time. “They’re tired of people misleading them about the scope of the problem or the difficulty of the solutions.”
That same day, an investigator for the Office of Inspector General submitted a report that found that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which processes concealed weapons permits in the state, neglected to do federal background checks on tens of thousands of people who had applied for concealed weapons permits for about a year.
Though it is more than a year old, the report was published Friday after the Tampa Bay Times obtained it through a records request.
Putnam has been a large booster of guns in the state, the Times pointed out, touting the increases in speed in processing the permits, celebrating when the state issued its millionth permit and, perhaps most famously, calling himself a “proud NRA sellout!” on Twitter. He has also proposed legislation “that would require permits to be approved in cases when an application is in limbo because background checks are inconclusive,” the Times wrote, though the legislation was scrapped after the shooting in Parkland, Fla.
The problem processing the background checks involved the office’s ability to use the National Instant Criminal Background Check, or NICS for short, the federal background check database.
From February 2016 through March 2017, the office did not log into the NICS database for checks, according to testimony in the report.
“As soon as we learned that one employee failed to review applicants’ non-criminal disqualifying information, we immediately terminated the employee, thoroughly reviewed every application potentially impacted, and implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again,” Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesman Aaron Keller told the Times, adding that the office was able to continue doing criminal background checks through two other databases.
The problem started when a manager had a login issue with the database. A little more than a month after the problem started, she emailed an analyst at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to report that the login was not functioning. The issue did not get resolved, and eventually the manager “forgot about accessing the NICS database after the first month,” according to testimony cited in the report.
The manager, identified as Lisa Wilde, was found in the report to have been negligent in her duties.
Wilde told the Times that the “licensing department was overwhelmed with the number of applications and she was under pressure from supervisors to quickly approve applications,” it reported. From the Times:
From July 2016 through June 2017, which covers most of the period when the system wasn’t accessed, 268,000 applications were approved and 6,470 were denied for reasons like an incomplete application or the state discovered they were ineligible, according to the state Agriculture Department’s annual concealed weapons permit report.
In the year since, there were fewer applications, about 200,000, but 2,000 more denials than the previous year when the federal background check system wasn’t accessed.
The Panama City News Herald reported that Putnam’s office issued a statement Friday evening blaming Wilde alone for the office’s failure to run federal background checks:
Upon discovery of this former employee’s negligence in not conducting the further review required on 365 applications, we immediately completed full background checks on those 365 applications, which resulted in 291 revocations.
“To be clear, a criminal background investigation was completed on every single one of the 349,923 concealed weapon license application submitted from February 2016 to March 2017,” Keller told The Post.
Florida has varying degrees of concealed weapon license reciprocity with 36 states, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That means a concealed weapon license issued in Florida would typically be honored in these states:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia