Ted Deutch, other Dems call on Putnam to resign over gun check failure

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam campaigning for governor in Riviera Beach last year. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, called on Florida Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam to resign after The Tampa Bay Times reported that Putnam’s office failed to conduct federal background checks on tens of thousands of applications for concealed weapons permits for more than a year in 2016 and 2017.

Putnam responded late Friday with a statement suggesting a much smaller-scale problem that his office worked to correct.

“To be clear, a criminal background investigation was completed on every single application,” Putnam said in a statement released by his office. “Upon discovery of this former employee’s negligence in not conducting the further review required on 365 applications, we immediately completed full background checks on those 365 applications, which resulted in 291 revocations. The former employee was both deceitful and negligent, and we immediately launched an investigation and implemented safeguards to ensure this never happens again.”

The lapse occurred between February 2016 and March 2017 because the employee in charge of background checks could not log into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to a June 2017 Office of Inspector General report that the Times obtained through a public records request.

“The integrity of our department’s licensing program is our highest priority,” Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesman Aaron Keller told the Times. “As soon as we learned that one employee failed to review applicants’ non-criminal disqualifying information, we immediately terminated the employee, thoroughly reviewed every application potentially impacted, and implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again.”

Deutch, whose Palm Beach-Broward district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, reacted angrily on Twitter this afternoon.

“My blood is boiling. This is an unimaginable failure for anyone who serves the public. He made FL less safe. He put lives at risk. He must resign,” Deutch tweeted.

The story prompted Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, who launched his Democratic candidacy for governor a week ago, to issue his first statement of the campaign.

“Adam Putnam isn’t just a self-proclaimed ‘proud NRA-sellout,’ he’s a downright danger to Floridians and should drop out of the race for Governor and resign from his position as Commissioner of Agriculture immediately,” Greene said.

The four other Democratic candidates for governor also teed off on Putnam this afternoon.

“Drop out now, Adam,” Democrat Gwen Graham tweeted.

“Adam Putnam should resign,” said Winter Park businessman and Democratic candidate Chris King.

“Negligence that threatens and costs lives must never be tolerated…An investigation should be opened immediately. These developments require an immediate response from Commissioner Putnam, starting with if he deserves to continue to serve in his current role,” said former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, in a Facebook live post, accused Putnam of “a complete and total dereliction of duty. It put the everyday citizens of this state, their lives, in harm’s way and at risk…This man does not deserve to be the next governor of Florida.”