Florida has fast-tracked concealed-weapons licenses to 82,000 military members and honorably discharged veterans since terror-related shootings at a pair of military installations in Tennessee two years ago.
State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who along with Gov. Rick Scott helped expedite the permitting process as part of the state's reaction to the shootings in Chattanooga, Tenn., made an appearance Tuesday to discuss the effort, which has played a part in Florida's increased number of people allowed to carry concealed firearms.
But with Putnam running for governor in 2018, his stances on Second Amendment issues are drawing criticism from Democrats.
Since Putnam first won statewide office in 2010, the number of concealed-weapons licenses has soared from about 800,000 to more than 1.78 million. Putnam's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issues the licenses.
The tens of thousands of active-duty military members and veterans getting expedited permits has come as the state has seen “heavy” demand for concealed-weapons licenses, Putnam said.
“This is just one example of what we do through our department to make Florida the most veteran- and military-friendly state in the nation,” Putnam said during an appearance at the National Guard Armory in Tallahassee.
The fast-tracking for military members, who don't have to wait until they're age 21 as do civilian applicants, was established as part of Florida's reaction to the July 16, 2015, terrorist-motivated shootings in Chattanooga that resulted in the deaths of four Marines, a Navy sailor and the gunman. Florida also upgraded security at National Guard recruitment centers, including arming guard members.
During his appearance at the armory, Putnam said the Legislature “continues to wrestle with the right way to get there” when asked about allowing concealed-weapons license holders to carry firearms on college and university campuses or to openly carry handguns.
Efforts to pass such proposals have failed in the Senate in recent years.
“Gun-free zones, where the victims have no opportunity to defend themselves, ought to be modified in a responsible way so that people can exercise their Second Amendment rights and protect themselves,” Putnam said.
As Putnam was speaking, Democrats criticized him about a comment posted online Monday about people protesting in Tampa over a recent National Rifle Association recruitment video.
“Classic progressive move,” Putnam said on Facebook. “Desperate attempt to limit our 2nd Amendment rights.”
Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Johanna Cervone called the video, narrated by NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, an attempt to “provoke fear and stoke the flames of division.”
“If Adam Putnam is endorsing this video, he's encouraging violence against fellow Americans,” Cervone said in a prepared statement. “Could Putnam be more transparent in his pandering to the far right? It's clear Putnam is more than a little insecure about his credentials as a conservative."
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is running as a Democrat for governor, was also critical of Putnam for supporting the video.
“It's a shameful day when someone who wants to lead our state stands behind such violent, divisive rhetoric, and against commonsense gun protections for Floridians,” Gillum said in a prepared statement.
In the video, Loesch called out progressives in education, the media and Hollywood for their resistance against President Donald Trump.
“The only way we stop this, the only we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth,” Loesch said in the video.