Editorial: Don’t cut corners on gun background checks

SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
Adam Putnam, Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture, and Governor Rick Scott attend a joint session of the Florida Legislature, 1/9/18.
SCOTT KEELER | Times Adam Putnam, Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture, and Governor Rick Scott attend a joint session of the Florida Legislature, 1/9/18.
Published February 2
Updated February 9

Floridians donít have a constitutional right to carry a concealed weapon. But a proposal from Adam Putnam, the state agriculture commissioner who is running for governor, would prioritize access to gun permits over public safety. There is no reason to change the law, and legislators should reject this proposal.

Nearly a half million Floridians applied for gun permits last year. Less than 1 percent ó or about 2,400 ó were rejected because a background check did not confirm they were legally allowed to carry a concealed weapon, such as showing that an old charge had been dismissed or that the personís civil rights, including the right to own a firearm, had been restored. Putnamís unwise solution: the state would look harder for the records, but if they canít be found after 90 days the permit would be issued anyway. Should criminal records turn up later that reveal a person should not be walking around with a handgun tucked in their pocket, the license would be "immediately suspended and revoked." If the idea werenít so dangerous it would be laughable.

There is precedent in state law about incomplete background checks. Gun purchasers in Florida are subject to a check through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. If the FDLE is missing information about a case that might disqualify someone from being allowed to buy a gun, it has three days to find it. After that time, the buyer gets a "conditional approval." While Putnamís proposal includes a longer time frame for locating missing records, it follows the same wrong-headed approach. Carrying a firearm in public is a serious responsibility, and there should be no exceptions to requiring a complete background check.

But prudence is taking a back seat to Putnamís political ambitions as the Republican gubernatorial primary heats up. Labeled the immediate front-runner when he announced his candidacy in May, he is polishing his conservative credentials against Ron DeSantis, a three-term U.S. House member and a favorite of President Donald Trump, who jumped into the race last month. And Richard Corcoran, the powerful Florida House speaker, is expected to announce his bid after the legislative session. Putnam pronounced himself a "proud NRA sellout" on Twitter last year, and this measure is sure to put him in even better standing with gun-rights groups. Florida Carry has threatened to sue him for taking too long to process applications over missing records ó as if thorough background checks are a nuisance instead of a basic public safety precaution.

The proposed change to background checks for concealed weapons permits is in a key bill that governs routine operations at the Department of Agriculture. Criminal background checks are Floridaís lone backstop for ensuring guns donít end up in the wrong hands, and 2,400 is too many people to allow a pass. Lawmakers should strip this proposal from the bill and put Floridiansí safety first.