For 13 months, the office of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam failed to run national background checks on people applying for concealed weapons permits in Florida because an employee couldn't log into the system. According to a year-old state investigation, in February 2016 the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stopped using a national database to approve such applications. All of them were run through three different background check systems - two criminal databases that use a fingerprint check and the NICS system, which uses personal identifying information to determine if someone is ineligible due to a drug use conviction, if they are an undocumented immigrant, they were involuntarily committed or were dishonorably discharged from the military.
Florida's Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz today told the Tampa Bay Times, "I was discouraged that Adam Putnam chose to throw his employees 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", he said. All five Democratic gubernatorial candidates - Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Palm Beach developer Jeff Greene, Orlando-area businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine - said Putnam should consider dropping out of the governor's race. In 2012 Putnam held a much-criticized press conference to herald Florida's one-millionth concealed weapon permit.
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 a statement, Putnam said the "former employee was both deceitful and negligent, and we immediately launched an investigation and implemented safeguards to ensure this never happens again".
The Department, meanwhile, said that it "immediately" fired the employee after becoming aware of her non-compliance with the procedure, and it "thoroughly reviewed every application potentially impacted".
As of May 31, there were more than 1.9 million concealed-weapons licenses issued by the state.
"Upon discovery of this former employee's negligence in not conducting the further review required on 365 applications, we immediately completed full background checks on those 365 applications, which resulted in 291 revocations", Putnam said in the statement.
Fernandez said he believes the Department of Agriculture will fix the problem. His office oversees the concealed weapons licensing program. It wasn't until March of the next year another employee noticed a problem.
The NCIS is used to screen for "non-criminal disqualifying offenses". Early in Putnam's term, it was discovered that his employees had trouble accessing the database because they were not law enforcement officers.
The report from 2017 quotes the employee saying, "I dropped the ball".
"I am extremely alarmed at the failure by Commissioner Putnam to disclose that his agency had failed to conduct these critical background checks - allowing possibly mentally disturbed individuals and others who should be disqualified, to be legally armed in Florida", Stewart said. "I should have been doing it and I didn't". Florida had a huge spike in concealed carry permit applications during that time, the most in state history.