For more than a year, the state of Florida wasn’t conducting national background checks on concealed carry applications, all because a worker couldn’t log in to the system.
In the course of the year, tens of thousands of people applied for such permits. In February of 2016, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stopped using a FBI crime database called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to a report from the state’s office of the inspector general first obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.
It wasn’t until March of 2017 that another worker noticed something wrong.
That national database includes information on any criminal history that a person seeking a permit might have in other states. It flags people with felonies, drug-related convictions, as well as any court order relating to someone’s mental health.
"The integrity of our department's licensing program is our highest priority," said Aaron Keller, a department spokesman when contacted Friday by the Tampa Bay Times. "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."
While the state wasn’t running criminal background checks on people applying for concealed carry permits, in June of 2016, a shooter opened fire at the Pulse nightclub outside Orlando, killing 50 people. The shooter was properly licensed to own a gun but did not have a concealed weapon license, according to TCPalm.
There are some 1.8 million concealed weapon permit holders in Florida, according to the Tampa Bay Times. And during the period when the state wasn’t conducting national background checks, a record number of applications were flowing through the system — and a record number were approved.
The state received 274,948 applications for concealed carry permits between July of 2016 and June of 2017, which covers most of the period during which the state wasn’t running national background checks. Of those, only 6,470 were denied, according to the state’s own conceal and carry reports.
The worker who should’ve been using the database told investigators that she “dropped the ball.” The inspector general’s report found her to have acted negligently.
“I should have been doing it and I didn’t,” she added.
But, she told the Tampa Bay Times, she’d been working in the mailroom prior to being assigned this work, and didn’t understand why conducting background checks was part of her job.
It’s not clear to what extent the state of Florida might be held liable for a worker’s mistake like this one. Law enforcement officers are protected from liability, except those who are found to be “plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Nevada residents sued Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2017 for failing to implement background checks in his state after voters approved a measure requiring background checks on private gun sales on the 2016 ballot.
The state’s commissioner of agriculture, Adam Putnam, has campaigned on loosening restrictions on concealed carry permits.
Cover image: A customer looks at a SIG Sauer handgun at a gun show held by Florida Gun Shows, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)