Saturday, December 01, 2018
The NRA should not dictate who licenses concealed weapons. (Sun Sentinel editorial)
Marion Hammer and the NRA have bossed and bullied Tallahassee legislators for long enough. Prediction: Nikki Fried will triumph over this tedious tendentious termagant.
Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
Hammer is lobbying to move weapons permitting to the office of Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican. She adamantly opposes putting it in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which performs background checks on applicants and where it rightly belongs.
Hammer argues that such an important function should be overseen by someone who is elected, not the state’s top cop. Her argument ignores the fact that the FDLE commissioner reports to four people elected statewide — the governor, attorney general, CFO and agriculture commissioner. Why the Florida Cabinet is insufficient oversight for Hammer defies explanation — other than it’s easier to control one person than four.
Before the November election, Hammer was pleased as punch to have concealed weapon permits issued by the Agriculture Department, which for the last eight years has been led by Adam Putnam, a Republican who calls himself a “proud NRA sellout.” She stood by Putnam even after it was revealed that his team had neglected to review background checks for 13 months and had issued permits to a couple hundred people who never should have had them.
Hammer is used to getting her way with the Republican lawmakers who dominate the Florida Legislature. It’s not about the money the NRA contributes to their campaigns, which isn’t what it used to be. Rather, it’s their desire to secure the NRA’s A+ rating and avoid the wrath of Hammer’s emails to NRA members, many of whom are single-issue voters.
Credit Hammer for the Stand Your Ground law, which has spread from Florida to other states and is reliably blamed for an increase in homicides. She’s also the force behind laws that forbid employers from banning guns on their property, punishing local officials who try to regulate firearms, and making criminals of doctors, including psychiatrists, for asking whether guns are kept in patients’ homes. A federal court rightly trashed that last one.
Though the Legislature rarely stands up to her, it did so earlier this year in raising to 21 the minimum age to buy a rifle. Hammer opposed that change, despite the 17 murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a 19-year-old former student who had legally bought a military-style assault rifle.
Now is another time for legislators to say no to Hammer.
Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, and some colleagues are daring to do that.
Book has introduced legislation (Senate Bill 108) to move weapons permitting to FDLE. Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, who worked with her on that, told the Times they intend to consult Fried on the matter. As Stewart points out, there’s no need for an intermediary when law enforcement can do it all.
Today, Agriculture gets its state crime data from FDLE, as well as information from other states that it can’t get directly because the FBI doesn’t consider it a law enforcement agency. The same problems would occur, of course, under Patronis.
During the campaign, Fried, who narrowly won over Republican Matt Caldwell, said the permitting office had been poorly run and needed a full audit. She also discussed moving concealed weapon permits to FDLE.
Fried says she told Hammer that “neither the department nor its employees will carry out the interests of the NRA, or any outside group that seeks to unduly influence the rules that apply to them.”
Unaccustomed to hearing such back talk, Hammer began pushing for change. She says it has nothing to do with Fried being a Democrat. Rather, it’s about what she has said.
”It's a commissioner who has vowed to tinker with the program, to try to fix something that isn't broken, and to generally disrupt the program that currently serves over 1.8 million Floridians," Hammer told the Tampa Bay Times.
In a statement issued through a spokesman Friday, Fried said the promised audit will be her “first priority” on taking office next month. “It is critical to Florida’s public safety that we determine where and how failures have occurred, and ensure that permits are only issued under my administration after the completion of background checks — as plainly required under Florida law.”
As to the future, Fried agreed that “we must start the conversation of the permit process to take politics out of public safety.” Law enforcement, she noted, “is not subject to the whims of the political party that happens to be in power, and could provide diligent oversight of the program.”
Fried sounds as if she fully means to run it right. But she can be commissioner for eight years at most, and there’s no guarantee that a successor would hold the NRA at arm’s length.
The FDLE should be the eventual destination. The worst possible outcome would be to give Hammer what she wants. She has done enough damage already.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O'Hara, David Lyons and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.