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Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018
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Column: It’s time for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to process concealed weapons licenses

It is hard to believe that the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs didnít discover for a year that an employee could not log into an account needed to see results of background checks that examined, among other things, whether applicants for concealed weapons permits had criminal records or other disqualifying information.

So, between February 2016 and March 2017, the results of background checks on nearly 350,000 applicants were not properly reviewed. When the news broke, the department looked at 365 applicants who had been flagged and determined that 291 of those issued permits should have been disqualified from possessing a concealed weapons license.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the department has encountered problems in issuing concealed weapons licenses. In 2007, an investigative report by the Sun-Sentinel found that concealed weapons licenses were granted to more than 1,400 people who had pleaded guilty or no contest to a felony; 216 people with outstanding warrants; 128 people with active domestic violence injunctions and six registered sex offenders.

In addition, prior to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam buried a provision in a lengthy bill that would have expedited the approval process for concealed weapons licenses before the background check was fully approved. It was ultimately withdrawn.

Since the Florida Department of Law Enforcement serves as the point of contact for background checks performed by federal firearm licensees (gun dealers) for individuals purchasing firearms, it is only natural that FDLE should also be the responsible agency for background checks and issue concealed weapons licenses. FDLE is well-placed to handle all firearms-related checks and maintains enough properly trained staff.

Unfortunately, there is a big hurdle before this common-sense action can become law. At the behest of the gun lobby, legislation was introduced and signed in 2002 specifically moving the function of applying for a concealed weapons license from the Department of State to the Department of Agriculture.

Times have changed, and the 16-year-old law is not only obsolete but dangerous. Lawmakers should require that all firearm licensing and background checks be under the supervision of the FDLE.

This is not just pushing words around on paper. It is a move that would provide insight, regulation ó and adequate staffing ó of a system that currently has issued nearly 2 million concealed weapon licenses.

Andy Pelosi is co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. Patricia Brigham is president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

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