Two Florida Senate Democrats are calling for a special Senate investigation into the state Department of Agriculture for issuing hundreds of concealed weapons permits to people who were ineligible to carry firearms in public.
State Senators Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, and Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, said they also want to know why Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam did not notify the public when he first learned about it a year ago.
"The recent acknowledgement by the Department of Agriculture that it had wrongly issued hundreds of concealed weapons permits to non-eligible individuals over a period of approximately one year, and subsequently failed to promptly disclose that failure for at least one year after, has deeply shaken our trust in the agency's ability to safeguard the people of Florida," Stewart and Rader wrote in a letter to Senate President Joe Negron on Monday. "As more details have emerged since news broke of the scandal late Friday, questions have mounted as to the degree of knowledge within the agency, namely who knew what, and when?"
On Friday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that from February 2016 through March 2017, no one in the Florida Department of Agriculture reviewed FBI-administered background checks while employees processed 350,000 applications for concealed weapons permits. The database, National Instant Criminal Background Information Center System, flagged 365 applicants. State officials revoked 291 permits that had erroneously been issued.
The NICS database is one of three that the department uses to background check applicants for concealed weapons permits. All 350,000 applicants also had their thumbprint checked against state and federal criminal background systems before they were issued a license, Putnam has said.
The findings were uncovered in an Office of Inspector General report commissioned last April. Putnam said Friday that he initiated the investigation upon learning of the lapse in his department.
The investigation found that an employee failed to follow up on the results of the NICS background checks for more than a year because she couldn't log in to the database.
The Democratic Senators said an additional probe is needed to determine if all ineligible permits were revoked and if Putnam's office failed to notify Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott said Monday that he had not seen the report, which he called "disturbing."
Stewart and Rader also raised questions about whether the security breech in agriculture department was at all related to a push by Putnam to automatically approve any concealed weapons permit if no disqualifying information on the candidate was received in 90 days.
The legislation was ultimately pulled after the deadly mass shooting at a Parkland high school.
"During all of the committee hearings this session, nothing was disclosed," said Rader, vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee that oversees Putnam's office. "Was it a cover up? Was it a way to rubber stamp what they knew they had already done?"