291 concealed weapons permits revoked after employee stopped reviewing background checks
FLORIDA — Florida revoked almost 300 concealed weapons permits after discovering that a state employee failed to review criminal background checks on applicants because she couldn’t log into the system, according to a report by state officials.
As a result of the problem, which lasted for more than a year, 291 people got concealed carry permits who should not have received them, said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
The employee was found negligent for not carrying out her job duties, which included making daily checks of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), according to a 2017 investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which processes applications for concealed weapons licenses. The results of the investigation had not been made public until now.
At a news conference Saturday, Putnam said when his office learned of the problem, it reviewed 365 concealed weapons applications flagged through the NICS search.
“The former employee was both deceitful and negligent, and we immediately launched an investigation and implemented safeguards to ensure this never happens again,” Putnam said in a statement.
The report came to light Friday when the Tampa Bay Times reported on the problem. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is run by Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor.
‘I dropped the ball’
All applications for concealed carry permits go through three background checks conducted by the Florida law enforcement: state and federal fingerprint-based searches of criminal records, and a name-based search through the NICS to search for non-criminal records, Putnam said at the news conference.
The non-criminal issues include being an undocumented immigrant, involuntarily committed or dishonorably discharged from the military, the Tampa Bay Times said.
Any of those searches might find information that would disqualify a person from receiving a concealed weapons permit, Putnam said. He also stressed that having a concealed weapons permit does not make a person eligible to purchase a firearm.
The problem, Putnam said, occurred when the employee failed to “follow up” on 365 applications from February 2016 to March 2017 that were flagged through the NICS search. The employee should have put those applications into the state system as being ineligible but didn’t, Putnam said.
The employee acknowledged to investigators that she hadn’t accessed the NICS background check system during that time period because of a login error.
“I dropped the ball,” the employee said in the report. “I know I did that, I should have been doing it and I didn’t.”
The followup investigation led the department to revoke 291 permits, Putnam said. During that 13-month period, about 350,000 people applied for concealed carry permits, he said.
Employee had login problems
Putnam said the employee no longer works for his department. She had worked for the licensing division for several years without a problem, he said.
The employee did not immediately respond to CNN’s multiple requests for comment.
Emails included in the report said the employee tried to get online-access help from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in April 2016 and told someone she was having login problems. The employee wrote that she could not pull up the files she wanted.
But the employee told investigators she never followed up to resolve the access issues.
The employee told the Tampa Bay Times that her department was overwhelmed and she was under pressure to quickly approve applications.
She said she had been given responsibility for the checks in 2013, when she worked in the mail room.
“I didn’t understand why I was put in charge of it,” she told the Tampa Bay Times.
Lack of appeals sparked investigation
Data on the state’s website shows the Division of Licensing handled almost 275,000 new concealed weapon applications and almost 175,000 renewals in the 12 months from July 1, 2016, until June 30, 2017. In the following 12 months, the number of applications declined but denials of license applications went up significantly.
Applicants can appeal their denials. When a state agency noticed a lack of appeals, it discovered the problem with the NICS checks and asked the inspector general to investigate.
US congressman Ron DeSantis, also a Republican candidate for governor, criticized Putnam on Saturday for the background checks problem, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
“Adam has spent years campaigning for governor, basically, in this position and the report was very concerning because it seemed like he wasn’t minding the store when we needed him to be there,” DeSantis told reporters at a campaign appearance in Pensacola.
NICS became accessible in November 1998 and is used to check state records nationwide to see whether someone is eligible to buy a firearm. Florida also uses it to check for out-of-state offenses that would disqualify a person from getting a concealed weapons permit, the Times reported.
The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has added safeguards to the application review process “to ensure this never happens again,” according to a statement on its website.