Following a series of reports on the mishandling of the concealed-carry firearm permit process at the Dept. Of Agriculture and Consumer Services, two activist groups say they want an independent investigation of how the process is being carried out.
The department is led by Adam Putnam, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor.
Orlando area Democratic state Senator Linda Stewart is calling for Florida’s Chief Inspector General to review the Dept. Of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Inspector General.
Stewart’s request comes from her search for public records after the Tampa Bay Times reported last month that state investigators last year found state investigators had failed to review results from a national background check for concealed weapons permits. That oversight led to 291 people getting a license to carry a concealed weapon in public who weren’t supposed to get one.
Following that report, Stewart sought exhibits noted in the Inspector General’s report, along with the agency’s policies and procedures cited as protocol for the witness interviews.
However, two of the witness interviews were withheld from that initial records request, and subsequent requests by Stewart for the missing accounts revealed that they were summaries, neither sworn nor recorded, or noted as exceptions.
Stewart also noted what she says were the misleading statements of some of the interviews conducted with other witnesses, including the employee ultimately forced to resign for the concealed carry report in the Times.
“It has come to my attention that a disturbing pattern of violations of professional standards and policies has emerged within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Inspector General, raising serious questions concerning the independent nature of its most recent investigation, and whether political pressure may have been exerted in the process,” Stewart wrote in a letter to Governor Rick Scott and members of the Florida Cabinet on Monday.
Earlier in the day, two groups called for Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate the Agriculture Department, citing numerous published reports about the lack of vigorous oversight when it came to the issuing out concealed carry permits.
“What has emerged is a pattern of ongoing egregious careless incompetence and cover-up,” charged Patricia Bingham with the Florida League of Women Voters in a conference call.
Bondi responded later in the day by saying that her office cannot conduct such an investigation, saying that the groups should instead contact the Florida Dept. Of Law Enforcement.
It’s been a slow summer drumbeat of stories about the concealed carrying process from Putnam’s office.
In an addition to that original Times story, the Associated Press then followed up with a report from earlier this month that reported that state investigators found that 48 employees in Putnam’s department made mistakes while reviewing applications for licenses.
POLITICO Florida reported last week that Putnam’s office mischaracterized interviews for concealed carry investigations and withheld records from the media.
And just this morning, the Times has another damaging story about the Dept. of Agriculture’s handling of concealed gun permits, reporting that an ex-employee said she was threatened with retaliation for saying workers were deficient in processing licensing applications and that her bosses told her she “worked for the NRA.”
“It has become clear that an independent investigation is needed,” Bingham added.
In addition to an investigation, Andy Pelosi with the Florida Coalition to Protect Gun Violence says it’s time to relieve the Dept. of Agriculture from doing background checks of concealed carry permits, and move it back to the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement.