Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services commissioner Nikki Fried could soon be facing a lawsuit over her decision to shut down online applications for concealed carry licenses. Young Americans for Liberty’s president Cliff Maloney sent a letter to Fried on Wednesday warning her that she could be sued over her decision, which Maloney calls arbitrary and capricious, according to the Washington Times.
“[W]hile you have selectively chosen to limit the manner in which applications to obtain a concealed weapons license may be submitted to the Department under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, you have not done the same across the board for all other online applications your Department accepts that require fingerprinting,” Mr. Maloney wrote in his letter on Wednesday. “It is arbitrary and capricious for you to allow Floridians on one hand to apply for a Hemp Cultivating License online during the COVID-19 pandemic, which requires fingerprints, but at the same time prohibit Floridians from applying for a concealed weapons license online.”
That may require a legislative fix, Fried has been criticized for her decision to suspend online applications for concealed carry licenses, which she says is necessary to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The commissioner claims that with her offices closed to the public, applicants will have to get fingerprinted somewhere else. There’s just one problem with that, as Florida Politics recently pointed out.
Fried says the department will still accept new applications with fingerprints from a law enforcement agency or tax collectors’ office, the two other approved sites to get fingerprinted.
Law enforcement agencies and tax collectors’ offices, the only other places with fingerprinting services valid for a weapons license, have also closed their fingerprinting services.
In other words, you can still get your fingerprints from other agencies, but since those other agencies are also not conducting fingerprinting for concealed carry applications, those wishing to apply online for a concealed carry license are out of luck.
Oddly, in a recent letter to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, Fried claims that despite the fact that applicants can’t get fingerprinted, her office is still processing thousands of applications.
As you know, the Governor on March 19 directed that many state offices shall be closed to the public to protect the health of the public and state employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has rendered our department unable to take fingerprints for concealed weapons license applicants at this time.
Pursuant to 790.06(5)(c), Florida Statutes, concealed weapons license applicants may obtain fingerprints through three lawful sources: a Department of Agriculture office, a law enforcement agency, or an approved tax collector. Applications from applicants providing these fingerprints are continuing to be processed as normal.
However, pursuant to 790.06(6)(c)2, Florida Statutes, an application shall be denied if after 90 days the applicant fails to qualify under the criteria listed in subsections (2) and (3), which includes submitting “a full set of fingerprints.”Because our department has no mechanism through which to issue refunds for denied applications, and to prevent frustration from applicants submitting online applications but unable to obtain fingerprints and who would otherwise be denied, the department has temporarily suspended online applications. This action is consistent with state law and is in the interest of Floridians seeking concealed weapons licenses, who may submit applications by mail or through tax collector offices, as normal. Contrary to the misinformation you may have seen, there is no delay in processing applications. In fact, throughout these unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, our devoted Division of Licensing staff has processed 29,048 new applications and 25,742 renewal applications since March 1, with an average review time of 1 to 2 days. This continues our record of success in bringing full accountability to the concealed weapons licensing program while reducing initial review times up to 98 percent, compared to my predecessor’s administration.
I’ll admit to being a little confused here. If no agency in the state is offering fingerprinting services for concealed carry applicants, where are the 29,048 applications coming from? One clue might be the timeline given by Fried, who says that since March 1st her office has processed nearly 30,000 applications. However, the fingerprinting services stopped being offered on March 19th, nearly three weeks later. How many of those applications were processed between March 1st and March 19th, and how many applications has her office approved since it stopped fingerprinting applicants? Fried doesn’t say.
As for the Hemp Cultivation Licenses that are still being processed by Fried’s office, the difference seems to be applicants are allowed to use private companies that provide fingerprinting services, while concealed carry applicants can only use a Department of Agriculture office, a law enforcement agency, or an approved tax collector. I agree with YAL’s Maloney that this decision is arbitrary and capricious, but it appears that it’s the state legislature, not Fried, who actually determined that Hemp Cultivation License applicants have far more choices than concealed carry applicants when it comes to obtaining the fingerprints required to process the licenses. Florida legislators could address this issue by allowing concealed carry applicants to use the same private companies that HCL applicants can use. That might be the easiest way to fix the problem, though with the legislature adjourned for the year, I don’t know how quickly the fix could be made.