Crist Says He’ll Likely Veto Gun Trust Fund Raid
Citing his support of Second Amendment rights and the persuasive powers of a Florida gun lobbyist, Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday said he would likely veto a legislative move to take money away from a concealed weapons registration program that’s been deluged by new requests.
Lawmakers in May approved a $66.5 billion spending plan that included a $6 million sweep from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Concealed Weapons and Firearms Trust Fund, which uses fees charged to gun owners to register their firearms. The trust fund had about $8 million in it before the "raid."
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Crist said he would likely restore the money to the trust fund when he signs the budget Wednesday and issues his list of vetoes.
A major driving force behind the veto push is Marion Hammer, former president of the National Rifle Association and seasoned Tallahassee-based lobbyist for gun owner rights. Hammer met with Crist last week, urging him to veto that portion of the budget that takes money from the trust fund and places it into state reserves. Apparently, the chat paid off.
“She is a tremendous advocate,” Crist said of his meeting the Hammer last week. “I’m inclined to do it.” Crist is expected to sign the budget on Wednesday.
“Hallelujah,” said Hammer, who noted that the trust fund that has been self-supporting for more than 20 years.
In a quest to patch the state budget, lawmakers swept nearly $800 million in trust funds, including the program housed within the Agriculture agency’s division of licensing. Budget makers were using the money to fund a $1.8 billion pool to pay for budget items in the next few years.
The sweep came despite the department’s inability to keep up with a surge of concealed weapons requests.
Prompted by a convergence of factors that have prompted applications to surge, the program is under unprecedented pressure to complete applications quickly as required by law.
The surge seems to be fueled at least in part by a poor economy and the election of Barack Obama, who gun advocates fear will push for gun control legislation. Gun sales are up across the country.
“There doesn’t seem to be any end in the near future to the upswing,” Hammer said. “It is an industry that is doing well.”
The demand for concealed weapons permits, which must be completed within 90 days, is making it more difficult for state officials to timely deal with other firearm applications including the certification of security guards and the reposession of weapons.
In March, the agency received 12,500 requests for new and renewed concealed weapons permits. In April, the figure jumped to 15,000. Two years ago, the agency was processing between 4,000 and 5,000 applications a month.
“We’re running right up against the 90-day window,” said Department of Agriculture spokesman Terry McElroy. “We''ve got some backlog that we need to tackle and it’s affecting other areas.”