TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A 2012 internal investigation found that 48 Florida state employees made mistakes in issuing permits for concealed weapons, security guards and other similar licenses — in some cases not even looking at applications, according to records released this week to The Associated Press.
The laxity among Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services employees was addressed at the time, including with at least one firing and new "checks and balances," officials said.
But the records add to revelations of lapses in concealed carry permitting in 2016-17 that have drawn criticism for department Commissioner Adam Putnam as he runs for governor in the wake of February's Parkland school shooting, which brought gun safety to the forefront of the political agenda.
A campaign spokeswoman for Putnam, a Republican who strongly supports gun rights, said the problems uncovered in 2012 started under a previous administration.
"Adam Putnam has proactively led efforts to hold government employees accountable and took action to address this issue which began before he was elected," campaign spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said.
Brad Herold, campaign manager for Putnam's Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, said the latest revelations are "another example of what happens when you put career politicians in executive positions. Adam Putnam has clearly been spending too much time running for his next elected office and not enough time doing his job."
Putnam was criticized last month after acknowledging that the agency was forced to revoke 291 permits awarded in 2016 and 2017 and that it fired an employee last year, after it was found that she had failed to complete required federal background checks.
The records released this week show that the department's inspector general began an investigation in August 2012 after it learned an employee issued an armed security guard license to a felon. The employee's supervisor said there had been past problems with the employee issuing licenses to felons and counselling occurred beginning in 2008, but no formal disciplinary action was taken. Putnam took office in January 2011.
The employee resigned during the investigation, which found he had issued 35 licenses without looking at the applications or reviewing arrest reports. At that point, the inspector general decided to review the work of all employees who processed license applications and renewals.
Computer records from July 2010 to July 2012 were reviewed to see if employees opened license applications. Investigators could also tell if only the first page of applications was reviewed while subsequent pages were ignored.
Of the 47 other employees who failed to follow proper review procedures, the error rate varied widely, from an employee who reviewed 2,219 applications and failed in one case to look at the second page of a security officer license renewal, to a woman fired after it was learned she approved 3,625 licenses without a full review, including 99 concealed weapons permit applications that were never viewed. Her error rate was nearly 13 percent of the 28,275 licenses processed.
Several employees blamed the errors on computer glitches, while other said phone calls and other distractions might have caused them to make mistakes.
The inspector general made several recommendations since implemented by the department, including random checks of approved licenses, improved employee training and weekly reports reviewed by supervisors to ensure employees are complying with licensing procedures.
"What these IG reports show is that we learned of a problem, evaluated it thoroughly, took action to hold employees accountable and implemented checks and balances," Inspector General Ron Russo said in a statement issued by the department.
Still, Democrats running for governor said they were disturbed to hear another example of mistakes made on gun permits under Putnam's watch. Putnam has previously been a target of gun safety advocates for calling himself a "proud ... sellout" to the National Rifle Association and for pushing to make it easier to get concealed weapons permits.
"It's incredible Adam Putnam didn't catch the gross negligence occurring in his own department earlier. What's even more incredible is that after he learned his department was issuing armed security guard and concealed weapon permits to felons, Putnam spent years working to weaken our state's gun laws even more," former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham. "It's disgraceful to see NRA sell-out Adam Putnam even running for governor. Negligence under his watch made our state less safe."
The campaign for Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said he is "alarmed at the steady drumbeat of revelations" coming from Putnam's office.
"It's incredibly brazen to run on your record of passing out concealed carry permits when in fact you were putting Floridians at risk," Gillum spokesman Geoff Burgan said.