A proposal that would allow some concealed-weapons license applications to be approved when background checks have not been completed was put on hold Thursday because of the deadly high-school shooting in Broward County.
The Senate Appropriations Committee had been scheduled to take up the proposal as part of a wide-ranging bill (SB 740) involving the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The bill was not immediately rescheduled. The 60-day legislative session ends March 9.
“This isn’t the day to have that conversation,” bill sponsor Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said before the committee meeting. “Right now, our priority is to help the situation down there, helping law enforcement. Let’s look at the things at which we can have control, mental health, safety in our schools, that’s the more urgent things to discuss today.”
The overall bill deals with issues ranging from liquefied petroleum gas to oyster-harvesting licenses in Apalachicola Bay. A similar measure in the House (HB 553) awaits a floor hearing.
Kate Kile, the Tallahassee leader of the gun-violence prevention group Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America, said she wasn’t surprised by the postponement, noting the negative attention that could have come after a gunman killed 17 people Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
“It would be a pretty bad day to talk about some legislation we feel is very dangerous and not the direction we need to be headed,” Kile said.
Before the meeting, Kile’s group dropped off petitions with Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, urging lawmakers to start advancing a separate measure (SB 334) that would require county law-enforcement officials to be notified when someone fails a background check for a concealed-weapons license.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam requested the proposed licensing change in Stargel’s bill that had been slated to go before the Appropriations Committee. The proposed change would require concealed-weapons licenses to be issued if Putnam’s office is unable to complete criminal background checks within 90 days and if no other disqualifying information is found. Such situations could occur, for example, if the department receives incomplete criminal-history information.
Any permit issued after the 90-day period would be immediately suspended if the full background history arrives and contains disqualifying information, according to the proposal.
Currently, the department has 90 days to issue a license or deny the application, though the limit can be suspended if the agency receives criminal-history information that does not include the final disposition of a crime that could disqualify the applicant.
The department estimates the turnaround time for processing new concealed-weapon license applications is 50 to 55 days.
The department, which has issued nearly 1.85 million concealed-weapon or firearm licenses, has estimated about 1 percent of its applications are denied each year due to insufficient information.
Putnam sent out a statement Thursday before the Senate meeting that “out of respect for their families and those suffering as a result of this tragedy, I’m working with bill sponsors to postpone consideration of the legislative proposal related to the licensing process.”
“While the shooter would not have even been eligible for a concealed weapon license and clearly had a troubled past that indicated serious mental health issues, the focus now should be on mental health and how we protect our children,” Putnam added.