For over a year, the state of Florida did not run FBI background checks on tens of thousands of residents applying for concealed weapons permits starting in February 2016 - because an employee forgot the password to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), reports the Tampa Bay Times.
The screwup by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was discovered by the Office of Inspector General, and meant that anyone from felons to people with mental illness may have been granted the right to carry a firearm in public.
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. -Tampa Bay Times
The report found that there were 134,000 requests for permits in the fiscal year ending in June 2015, and 245,000 applicants over the next 12 months. 2017 applications topped both, at 275,000 applications.
After the screwup was discovered, officials scrambled to run background checks - flagging 365 applications which required further review, and 291 revocations. The employee who forgot the password, Lisa Wiolde, has been fired for negligence.
"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. "The former employee was both deceitful and negligent, and we immediately launched an investigation and implemented safeguards to ensure this never happens again." -Tampa Bay Times
Employees interviewed for the IG report said that the NICS background checks are "extremely important," and confirmed that concealed weapons licenses "may have been issued to potentially inelligible individuals." The employee said that if the checks weren't done, it could cause "an embarassment to the agency."
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has made it a priority to speed up the issuing of concealed weapons permits since he was elected in 2010. In 2012, he held a news conference to celebrate the state's one millionth concealed weapons permit, noting the time it took to process an application fell from 12 weeks to 35 days on his watch. There are now 1.8 million concealed weapon permit holders in Florida. -Tampa Bay Times
Putnam, now a Florida gubernatorial candidate on the GOP ticket, touts the expansion of concealed carry permits as one of his hallmark accomplishments. Now, especially in the wake of the Parkland High School shooting which left 17 dead, Putnam's reputation is sure to take a hit.
"The integrity of our department's licensing program is our highest priority," said Aaron Keller, a department spokesman, when contacted Friday by the 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."