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Florida stopped background checks on concealed weapons permits for a year because of a login error

Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is currently running for governor, oversaw the department in question.

Former Rep. Adam Putnam, center, (R-FL). CREDIT: TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
Former Rep. Adam Putnam, center, (R-FL). CREDIT: TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

In a bombshell report, the Tampa Bay Times reports that the state of Florida didn’t conduct national background checks on tens of thousands of applications for concealed weapons permits because an employee in charge of performing the checks couldn’t log into the necessary FBI crime database. 

The background checks at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stopped in February of 2016 and didn’t resume until another employee noticed in March 2017 — a time span that included the June 12, 2016 massacre at Pulse nightclub that left 50 dead, and a historic spike in requests for concealed weapon permits in the state.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a former Republican U.S. representative currently running for governor in Florida, is the head of the department in question. He proudly calls himself an “NRA sellout.”

Throughout his time as commissioner, Putnam has boasted about how much he streamlined the process of applying for a concealed weapons permit; he was elected in 2010, and in 2012, he held a press conference to celebrate the state’s one millionth concealed weapons permit, and the fact that the wait time to process an application dropped from 12 weeks to 35 days under his watch.

His website, which centers around his campaign for governor, lists “Gun Rights” as the first thing Putnam supports.

“As Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam expanded the state’s concealed weapon license program so it is now the largest in the country,” the website reads. “He expedited over 75,000 Florida concealed weapon license applications for active military members and veterans. He believes if you carried a gun in Iraq, you should be able to own one at home.”

According to an Office of Inspector General investigation, which the Times accessed through a public records request, on April 7, 2016 — a full 40 days after the department stopped doing background checks — Lisa Wilde, the employee in charge of performing this background checks, reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that her login wasn’t working. However, she didn’t follow up, and it took 11 months for another employee to question why they hadn’t received any notices of background checks in a while.

The investigation found that Wilde was negligent, and she was terminated.

Wilde, admitted to the Times that she failed at her duties, but noted that she was overwhelmed with the number of applications from supervisors and the pressure to get them approved quickly. Plus, she also said that when she was given oversight of the database in 2013, she was working in the mailroom.

“I didn’t understand why I was put in charge of it,” she said.

While it’s not clear how many applicants would have been denied a permit if the proper background check system been put in place, statistics indicate it would have been at least a few thousand.

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 background system flags any applicants who have served in prison for more than a year, convicted of drug use in the past year, are undocumented immigrants, were dishonorably charged from the military, involuntary committed, or deemed to have a “mental defect” by a court.

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“The integrity of our department’s licensing program is our highest priority,” said Aaron Keller, a department spokesman, told the Times. “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.”