- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Hundreds of criminals were able to obtain concealed-weapons permits in Florida because of loopholes, errors and miscommunication, a newspaper reported yesterday.

An analysis of state records show the about 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 B. 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.

The newspaper said it found that concealed-weapons permits have soared from about 25,000 in 1987, the first year in which 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.

The newspaper reported that many of the licenses are granted in cases in which people are charged with felonies but a judge “withholds adjudication,” meaning that defendants accept sentences such as probation and community service in exchange for guilty or no-contest pleas.

In such cases, when the sentencing terms are completed, the person has no criminal record, and in three years, he can get a concealed-carry permit in Florida.

“What you’re talking about is taking away the rights of people who have not been convicted and punished for crimes because the court decided to give them a pass,” said Marion Hammer, a Tallahassee lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. “How can a state agency take rights away from people when a court refuses to?”

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