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Newly-Elected Ag Commissioner Promises Audit Of Gun Program

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Sam Turken
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida's newly elected agriculture commissioner is vowing to conduct a "deep dive" into the state's concealed weapons permit program once she is sworn into office.

Nikki Fried, who appeared on south Florida news programs on Sunday, said she has already begun talking about possible changes to the program with employees in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Her push to revamp the program comes amid a likely legislative battle over whether the program should be moved to a different state agency.

Earlier this year it was revealed that there were lapses in the program that is currently under the control of outgoing Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Fried, who is now the only statewide elected Democrat, will take office Jan. 8.

Fried, who says she has had a concealed weapons permit for five years, contends that gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association have too much influence over the operation of the program.

This past week it was reported that NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer has suggested placing Republican Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis in charge of concealed weapons permits. Hammer told the Tampa Bay Times that Patronis would "continue to run it properly." Democrats in the state Senate, meanwhile, have filed a bill to transfer the program to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Florida transferred control of the program in 2002 from the Department of State to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at the urging of Hammer so that it was under an elected official.

Fried, who says she supports transferring the program to FDLE, wants to do an audit of the program even though state auditors are currently reviewing it as part of a routine audit of the agriculture department. She also said she wants to require that all permit background checks be done by full-time employees. She said part-time employees are currently assisting in the reviews.

"This is not a political issue, this is making sure safety come first," Fried said on an interview broadcast on WFOR-TV.

More than 1.9 million people in Florida have permits to carry concealed weapons.

Putnam, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor, was criticized in June after he acknowledged his agency was forced to revoke 291 permits awarded in 2016 and 2017. It was also revealed that the agency fired an employee in 2017 after it was found that she had failed to complete required federal background checks.

A 2012 internal investigation found that 48 department employees made mistakes while issuing concealed weapons permits and armed security guard or similar licenses. One employee resigned, one was fired and others were suspended or reprimanded. The review found three approved licenses that needed to be revoked.

The department said it put safeguards in place to prevent future errors.

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Gary Fineout -- The Associated Press