Florida lawmakers postpone consideration of bill to make it even easier to buy firearms

Less than 24 hours after 17 people were shot and killed at a high school in Florida, lawmakers in the state were scheduled to consider a bill that would allow people to obtain gun licenses without passing a background check.

But given the national attention on the mass shooting, a representative for the Senate president told ThinkProgress Thursday morning that the committee would be postponing consideration of the legislation.

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam (R), who is running for governor of Florida, authored the provision and asked state Sen. Kelli Stargel (R) to tuck it into the end of a 98-page agriculture bill that deals mostly with oyster harvesting, livestock, and liquefied gas. The controversial provision would require the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the state agency that monitors gun purchases, to issue concealed carry firearm licenses to people within 90 days of their application, even if their background checks are incomplete. While current law requires an individual to provide a complete background check and wait however long is necessary, the new bill would eliminate that requirement and then allow the agency to revoke a person’s permit if disqualifying information turns up later.

“Obviously, we’re not trying to make an easier path for anyone who shouldn’t have a concealed weapons permit,” Stargel said earlier this month. “Nobody wants anyone who shouldn’t have one to have one.”

The State Senate Appropriations Committee was scheduled to consider the legislation at 1 p.m. Thursday, but decided, at the last minute, to postpone the debate after the shooting outside Fort Lauderdale.

State Sen. Linda Nelson (D), who sits on the Appropriations Committee and represents the district that includes Pulse Nightclub, said she questions why the gun provision is in the bill in the first place.

“It’s just the wrong vehicle to talk about this,” she told ThinkProgress. “There’s so much in that ag bill that I support — the oysters, and the greening money. You don’t want to be against agriculture because we need all those things… But I just can’t support it.”

Putnam, who has said on Twitter that he’s a “proud NRA sellout,” has centered his campaign to replace Gov. Rick Scott (R) around gun rights. He has mailed campaign fliers with a photo in which he’s holding a rifle, and on the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, he boasted about his efforts to make it easier for people to obtain concealed carry licenses. As the head of Florida’s agency that issues concealed weapons permits, Putnam has spoken out about his desire to change a system that currently requires the agency to reject applications from individuals who cannot provide full documentation required under the background check rules.

Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old man charged with 17 counts of manslaughter, is not listed as holding a weapons license through the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. But reports indicate that the United States’ flawed background check system may be to blame for his ability to obtain deadly weapons — despite being flagged to the FBI as a potential threat, Cruz was able to pass a background check and purchase the AR-15 he used Wednesday.

“I don’t think we can afford to make those errors,” Nelson said. “I have a big push to have an assault weapons ban and a bump stock ban and it’s not getting heard anywhere up here in the Senate. But this is not a conversation that needs to be put on an ag bill.”

While efforts to strengthen the background check system fail in Congress, GOP lawmakers in some states are pushing the law in the other direction. The Florida House version of Putnam’s bill passed through committee on February 1 and now awaits a full floor vote.