Crossfire continues on concealed weapons

By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida…

TALLAHASSEE — Agriculture Commissioner-elect Nikki Fried wants to move the handling of concealed-weapons licenses from the agency she will soon oversee to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

But National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, the state’s top Second Amendment advocate, is digging in on her position that the license program needs the guiding hand of a statewide elected official, preferably of the Republican kind.

Fried, a Democrat, and Hammer this week continued a back-and-forth that started during the election campaign, with Fried sending out a series of tweets reaffirming her position that the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the wrong place for concealed-weapons licenses.

“Politics should have no role in our concealed weapons permit process — the current system has allowed groups like the @NRA to control our state government for long enough. I fully support moving the program to be under the authority of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,” she tweeted.

Fried has questioned the need for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to oversee the program since a series of reports this summer by the Tampa Bay Times and Associated Press highlighted errors in background checks.

The Times reported this week that Senate Democrats are drafting language to support Fried’s proposal to move the program to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, while Hammer is pushing for it to go under state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican who won his Cabinet race Nov. 6.

Fried called Hammer’s effort “irresponsible” and “a blatant power grab and shameless political party shopping.”

“If the NRA is serious about public safety, they should agree with a non-partisan check on public safety & trust law enforcement to do their job,” Fried tweeted. “We must start the conversation of non-partisan oversight on concealed weapons permits to take the politics out of public safety.”

Hammer responded Wednesday in an email to The News Service of Florida by saying the move to Patronis’ office would protect the program and called Fried “an anti-gun politician who had already announced that she will effectively disrupt and derail the program.”

“No program that facilitates a constitutional right should be under a politically appointed agency head, it must be under an elected official answerable to the people,” Hammer said in the email. “I assure you 1.8 million (concealed weapons) license holders would not be happy if the program were disrupted.”

“I find it strange that all of a sudden a Democrat is asking us to trust law enforcement when Democrats have repeatedly criticized, verbally attacked and denounced law enforcement as untrustworthy,” Hammer concluded.

The NRA supported Republican Matt Caldwell in the agriculture commissioner contest. Fried, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who will take office in January, noted repeatedly during the campaign that she is a gun owner.