FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Hundreds of criminals were able to obtain concealed weapons permits in Florida because of loopholes, errors and miscommunication, a newspaper reported Sunday.
An analysis of state records show the roughly 410,000 Floridians licensed to carry hidden guns included 1,400 who had pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies, 216 with outstanding warrants, 128 named in active domestic violence injunctions and six registered sex offenders, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
"I had no idea," said Baker County Sheriff Joey Dobson, who sits on an advisory panel for the state Division of Licensing, which issues permits for carrying concealed weapons. "I think the system, somewhere down the line, is broken. I guarantee you the ordinary person doesn't know (that) ... and I'd venture to guess that 160 legislators in Florida don't know that, either."
The newspaper obtained the names of people on the state's concealed weapons permit list shortly before state lawmakers sealed it from public scrutiny July 1.
Marion Hammer, a Tallahassee lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, blamed law enforcement gaps, "bleeding-heart, criminal-coddling judges and prosecutors" for missteps that put guns in the hands of criminals.
Critics, however, say the NRA pressures lawmakers to ignore the problem.
"The people who are intimately familiar with these laws, the people at the NRA, they know exactly what's going on," said Kristen Rand, legislative director of the nonprofit Violence Policy Center. Florida's gun lobby and the program's administrators "know they're permitting some bad people, but they don't want the general public to know that."
The newspaper said it found that concealed weapons permits have soared from roughly 25,000 in 1987, the first year carrying a concealed gun was legal in Florida, to more than 410,000.
In Miami-Dade County, the number of licenses jumped from 2,200 to 42,521 as of Dec. 31, and in Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, it went from 25 to 35,884.
"That's an alarming increase," Coral Springs Police Chief Duncan Foster said.