Florida Legislators Meet Day After Parkland Shooting to Relax Gun Background Checks

Florida Agriculture Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam
Florida Agriculture Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam Florida House of Representatives
Update: After this story was published, Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam postponed his proposed change in gun-licensing rules.

Yesterday, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz carried an AR-15 rifle into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, riddled the building with bullets, and killed 17 students and teachers. The massacre was worse than Columbine. Cruz showed about as many warning signs as a suspected school shooter possibly could (and had likely been reported to the FBI), yet he was allowed to purchase an assault rifle and a whole arsenal of other firearms and ammunition.

Now, barely 24 hours later, Florida legislators are set to vote at 1 p.m. on a provision that would weaken the state's background-check laws and allow people who file incomplete background-check forms to obtain concealed-carry permits anyway. The provision is simply one bill among a smattering of insane pro-gun laws filtering through the Florida Legislature — including bills that would let gun owners carry firearms into churches and schools.

As Tallahassee reporter Steve Bousquet initially noted at the beginning of the month, state Republicans have snuck a startling proposal into the bottom of a 98-page agricultural appropriations bill, SB 740, that would force the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to grant a concealed-carry permit within 90 days of filing — even if the applicant's background check has not yet been completed.

As Miami-Dade County Democratic Party Chair Juan Cuba noted last night on social media (blogger Grant Stern first caught the post), the Florida Senate is scheduled to vote on the measure today at 1 p.m.

"Because FL Republicans are cowards bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association, they snuck in a gun provision inside of the Agriculture bill making its way through Tallahassee," Cuba wrote, adding that the rest of the bill regulates seemingly unrelated things such as oyster harvesting and standards for water-vending machines.
The bill's sponsor, Florida Sen. Kelli Stargel, told the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau earlier this month that Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam personally asked legislators to tuck the provision into the bill. There appears to be no rhyme or reason for the measure — no one has offered a full explanation as to how it would help public safety, other than arguing that "more guns make people safer." (A companion bill, HB 553, easily passed through committee and awaits a floor vote in the House.)

Instead, this appears to be a bald-faced attempt to drum up far-right support for Putnam's gubernatorial campaign. The commissioner and former U.S. congressman is running a hard-right, anti-immigrant, and almost nakedly pro-white campaign to take over for Gov. Rick Scott, who currently employs Putnam. He had been the campaign's frontrunner until President Donald Trump announced he was supporting U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis' campaign instead.

During the campaign, Putnam called himself a "proud NRA sellout" — he's now offering Stoneman Douglas shooting victims and their families his "thoughts and prayers" while conveniently ignoring the fact that he wants to give guns to people who haven't received full background checks. Because this is Florida, Putnam's proposal is far from the only pro-gun bill floating through the Legislature. Here's a rundown of the others being debated in Tally:

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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.