With the renewed push to tighten background checks for gun purchases after the unabated spate of mass shootings in this country, particularly after the survivors of the Parkland, Florida massacre began their campaign of activism, the report today in the Tampa Bay Times is so disheartening as to be thoroughly sickening.
“For more than a year, the state of Florida failed to conduct national background checks on tens of thousands of applications for concealed weapons permits, potentially allowing drug addicts or people with a mental illness to carry firearms in public,” the paper’s story begins.
Let that sink in.
The state already has a regulation on its books that requires anyone applying for a permit to carry a concealed weapon to undergo a background check of the type that gun regulation reform activists are hoping to see expanded to everyone who purchases a gun, whether at a store or in a private transaction such as at a gun show.
However, despite the clear law requiring it, these background checks were not even attempted and the permits were issued nonetheless.
The reason for the failure would be laughable if it were not so deeply tragic. According to the Tampa Bay Times:
“A previously unreported Office of Inspector General investigation found that in February 2016 the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stopped using a FBI crime database called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that ensures applicants who want to carry a gun do not have a disqualifying history in other states,” reporter Steve Cortorno wrote in the paper.
“The employee in charge of the background checks could not log into the system, the investigator learned. The problem went unresolved until discovered by another worker in March 2017 — meaning that for more than a year applications got approved without the required background check,” he added.
The statistics for concealed carry permits during this period, which included the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that killed 50 people in June of 2016, are staggering. The number of applications soared from 134,000 for the fiscal year ending in June 2015 to 245,000 the next year to an unprecedented 275,000 in 2017.
The Inspector General’s office concluded in their report that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services may have issued concealed weapons licenses “to potentially ineligible individuals.”
if that wasn’t bad enough, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is now running as a Republican candidate for governor of the state, once bragged at a news conference about how he had been able to speed up the time required to process a concealed carry permit from 12 weeks to only 35 days under his administration of the agency. He’s also declared himself a “proud #NRAsellout” on Twitter.
— Adam Putnam (@adamputnam) July 26, 2017
The department responded to the revelations today with this explanation:
“The integrity of our department’s licensing program is our highest priority,” said department spokesman Aaron Keller. “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.”
The Inspector General’s report pins the blame on a single negligent employee, Lisa Wilde, who reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that her log-in to the background check system wasn’t working on April 7, 2016, over a month after her last log in. Wilde never followed up on her technical problem report and never bothered to try to access the system again.
It wasn’t until a year later when another employee began to wonder why no concealed carry permit applications had been denied that the issue was discovered. Wilde attributes her failure to complete the required background checks on an overwhelming workload and heavy pressure from supervisors to approve applications quickly.
While acknowledging that she “dropped the ball” on the background checks, Wilde says that her previous position in the department was in the mailroom and that she doesn’t “understand why I was put in charge of it.” Neither does anyone else at this point.
WIth the promise of universal background checks one of the key reforms being called for in the wake of the epidemic of gun violence, the inadequacies of the systems already in place and the lack of trained personnel to conduct those checks properly does not bode well for the checks alone to become a major solution to the intractable problem.
The U.S. should follow the lead of countries like Australia where, after a mandatory gun buyback program eliminated the vast majority of assault weapons in the country, mass shootings virtually disappeared.
It’s a proven fact that the NRA and its paid-off political backers refuse to recognize: fewer guns equal fewer gun deaths. It’s time to follow facts and follow suit.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.