The state of Florida failed to conduct national background checks on tens of thousands of applicants looking to procure a concealed weapon permit for more than a year, and the reason is about as dumb as it gets: the person in charge of performing the checks forgot their login information.
An Office of Inspector General investigation obtained by the Tampa Bay Times showed that from February 2016 until March 2017, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stopped using FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System—the primary database to make sure concealed carry applicants don’t have a checkered past in other states. No applications during that period underwent the required national background check.
That is fucking nuts, and the details of the Inspector General investigation only makes it worse.
According to the report, just two employees regularly accessed the FBI database: Lisa Wilde, the employee who was found to be negligent, and a mailroom employee who had next to no training with the system. Wilde stopped using the database in February 2016 and waited 40 days before reporting that she was having trouble logging into her account to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Infuriatingly, Wilde didn’t go through the proper channels to report the issue, choosing to send an email to the public email address for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s (FDLE) firearm purchasing program instead of directly contacting someone who could help. Her email was forwarded to the proper person, and she was informed the username she provided was wrong. Wilde was given the correct username, which hadn’t been used to login for more than a month, but still reported experiencing issues.
An employee at the FDLE told Wilde that he could help fix the problem, but she would have to contact him via phone call. He also reported trying to call Wilde but she didn’t pick up. Wilde never called and never followed up on the email, opting instead to just not conduct the background checks. This went on for more than a year until another employee finally realized the department hadn’t received a single denial from the FBI database for quite some time.
Wilde clearly holds a significant part of the blame for this massive oversight, but here’s a fun tidbit from the Tampa Bay Times. In an interview with the paper, Wilde said she was working in the Agriculture Department’s mailroom when she was given oversight of the background check database in 2013. “I didn’t understand why I was put in charge of it,” she said. Yikes!
So just how many applications went through without being reviewed by the FBI during that period? According to the Florida Agriculture Department’s annual concealed weapons permit report, there were nearly 275,000 applications from July 1st, 2016 through June 30th, 2017. Just 6,470 of those were denied, and nearly half of those denials were due to incomplete applications.
(For comparison’s sake, the 2017-2018 report shows 200,000 applications during the same period but saw 2,000 more denials with the federal background check in place.)
In the IG report, department employees said the federal background checks are “extremely important” and admitted that without the check, concealed weapons licenses “may have been issued to potentially ineligible individuals.”
A spokesperson for the state’s Department of Agriculture told the Tampa Bay Times the following regarding the report:
As soon as we learned that one employee failed to review applicants’ non-criminal disqualifying information, we immediately terminated the employee, thoroughly reviewed every application potentially impacted, and implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told the paper just 365 applications required the federal background check. Upon learning of Wilde’s negligence, the department “immediately completed full background checks” on the applications in question and ended up revoking 291 of them.
Per Putnam, “a criminal background investigation was completed on every single application.” The Agriculture Department spokesperson echoed that statement, telling the Times it conducted background checks using two other databases, the Florida Crime Information Center database and the National Crime Information Center database.
That’s not particularly reassuring, especially seeing as Florida has been home to two of the most horrific mass shootings in recent memory: the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida and the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. The latter, in which 50 people were killed, took place during the period that Florida was not conducting FBI background checks (though the shooter acquired his firearms license before that time).
Putnam, the head of the Agriculture Department, is currently making a run for governor of the state of Florida. According to the Times, he’s spent much of his time in his current position trying to speed up the process of issuing concealed carry permits. In 2012, he held a press conference to announce the state’s one millionth concealed carry permit. During the event, he said application process time dropped from 12 weeks to 35 days under his leadership.
He’s only doubled down on his position since hitting the campaign trail. In 2017, he tweeted that he’s a “proud NRA sellout” and has made guns a central issue of his campaign. On his website, he brags, “As Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam expanded the state’s concealed weapon license program so it is now the largest in the country.” That’s probably pretty easy to accomplish when you’re just skipping an entire step of scrutiny for thousands of applications.