‘Disturbing’ state didn’t review concealed carry background checks, Rick Scott says

Responding to Tampa Bay Times report, Scott said he expects 'everybody to be held accountable' for lapse.
Adam Putnam, Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture, and Gov. Rick Scott attend a joint session of the Florida Legislature on Jan. 9. (SCOTT KEELER | Times)
Adam Putnam, Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture, and Gov. Rick Scott attend a joint session of the Florida Legislature on Jan. 9. (SCOTT KEELER | Times)
Published June 11, 2018|Updated June 11, 2018

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday said it was "disturbing" and "concerning" that the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued concealed weapons permits to hundreds of ineligible people.

"I expect everybody to be held accountable," Scott said.

On Friday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that from February 2016 through March 2017, no one in the agriculture department checked the results of FBI-administered background checks on 350,000 applications for concealed weapons permits, which flagged 365 candidates for further review. During that time, the state erroneously issued 291 permits to people that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System determined were ineligible.

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.

Adam Putnam, who as state agriculture commissioner oversees the concealed weapons program, learned about the lapse a year ago when it was investigated by the Office of Inspector General. However, Scott said Monday that he still had not seen the results of that investigation.

"People need to do their job. It's as simple as that," Scott said. "This is public safety."

On Saturday, Putnam said "no one's safety was at risk" because those 291 people would not have been able to purchase a firearm. The department later revoked the permits, Putnam said.

Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor, blamed the incident on the employee, who was later fired.

"I completely agree with the Governor," Putnam said in a statement Monday. "That's why we took immediate action and the negligent and deceitful employee no longer works at the agency."

According to the state investigation, the employee in charge of reviewing the NICS background check results failed to do so for a year because of a log-in issue. NICS reports are supposed to be reviewed daily, the investigation said, calling these background checks "a vital component of the (concealed weapon permit) applicant review process."

The report also indicated that the department may not have a backup system to ensure the task was completed. Putnam said that changes were made, but his office so far has not released those details.

While Putnam criticized the initial Times report as "misleading," Republicans so far have not rushed to his aid.

On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, accused Putnam of throwing his employee under the bus, "rather than taking some ownership over the fact that there wasn't adequate oversight and adequate redundancy over something that is so important to public safety." Gaetz supports Putnam's primary opponent in the governor race, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Scott, a Republican and fellow cabinet member, said Monday, "we all expect our government to do their job." That sounded similar to criticism Saturday from DeSantis, who also said Putnam "wasn't minding the store."

"If this report was done a year ago, why are we just now finding out about this?" DeSantis added.

Asked about this Saturday, Putnam demurred and instead said his office acted quickly to remove the employee and fix the system.

Times staff writer Kathryn Varn contributed to this report.