DeSantis Misleads About Purpose of Florida 3-Day Waiting Period to Buy Guns

Concealed Carry

Photo: Rebecca Wright/CNN

At the very beginning of the CNN town hall Wednesday evening, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) was asked about gun laws and expressed his support for revoking Florida’s 3-day waiting period, arguing that “the background check should be instant.” But this comment misleads about the purpose of that waiting period, one of several reform measures passed in the wake of the Parkland school shooting — as well as about the cause for any delays in conducting those background checks.

The February 14, 2018 shooting involved a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student who returned to campus armed with an AR-15 rifle, wounding 17 people and killing, in alphabetical order: 14-year-old student Alyssa Alhadeff, 35-year-old teacher Scott Beigel, 14-year-old student Martin Duque Anguiano, 17-year-old student Nicholas Dworet, 37-year-old assistant football coach Aaron Feis, 14-year-old student Jaime Guttenberg, 49-year-old athletic director Christopher Hixon, 15-year-old student Luke Hoyer, 14-year-old student Cara Loughran, 14-year-old student Gina Montalto, 17-year-old student Joaquin Oliver, 14-year-old student Alaina Petty, 18-year-old student Meadow Pollack, 17-year-old student Helena Ramsay, 14-year-old student Alexander Schachter, 16-year-old student Carmen Schentrup, and 15-year-old student Peter Wang.

Those are the names who should be remembered; in accordance with the wishes expressed by numerous family members of the victims to not promote the shooter, I am not using his name in this article and have only done so in the past where minimally necessary for reporting purposes. The shooter was sentenced to life in prison in October 2022.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the families of the victims — despite their diverse personal political views — advocated for several state and federal reforms aimed at addressing school safety, mental health, background checks, and gun regulation. Those reforms included Florida bills that raised the age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21, enacted a “red-flag” law that created a judicial process to temporarily remove an individual’s guns, and imposed a waiting period on all gun purchases of three business days or the time needed to complete a background check, if longer.


Those state laws were passed with bipartisan support in both the Florida House and Senate, and were signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) (rated “A+” by the NRA that year), but since that time, DeSantis and various Republicans in the legislature have pushed to roll back the gun control parts of those reforms.

CNN anchor and town hall moderator Kaitlan Collins asked DeSantis about a bill recently filed by State Sen. Jonathan Martin, a Fort Myers Republican, to revoke the 3-day waiting period. The governor was emphatic in his support for removing the waiting period, framing the argument solely around the issue of the time it takes to conduct a background check, saying repeatedly that there should be “instant background checks.”

The bill in question, SB 1124, eliminates the waiting period altogether for all guns except handguns. Martin told conservative blog site Florida’s Voice that his intent was to prevent government bureaucrats from being able to “sit” on background check applications, claiming there were currently “situations where people have been waiting months and months and months with no end in sight,” because those bureaucrats have “no duty” to expedite the background check process.

However, any “delays” seem to be mostly hypothetical, or at most wildly exaggerated. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the agency that accesses the criminal databases to conduct the background checks, “98% of all transactions are resolved within minutes of being received” — doesn’t that sound like the “instant background checks” DeSantis told the CNN town hall he wanted? — and [a]dditional information is needed before a final decision can be made for the remaining 2%” (emphasis added). The FDLE notes that “96% of all transactions are approved” and “just under 2% are non-approved,” further dispelling any suggestion that this process is an obstacle for a significant number of applicants.

Those 2% are still obviously entitled to their rights, but what both Martin and DeSantis are conveniently omitting is that the pesky bureaucrats they accuse of obstreperously blocking law-abiding citizens from getting their guns are over at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, a state agency headed by Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson, a Republican who was elected on a statewide ballot in 2022 after serving as Florida Senate President. Simpson’s tenure in the legislature was sufficiently anti-gun control to win him high marks and endorsements for his Ag Commissioner race from the NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida, another pro-gun group.

In an ironic twist of fate, Simpson’s predecessor was a Democrat, Nikki Fried (currently the chair of the Florida Democratic Party). Fried carried no such merit badges from the NRA but when she took over as Ag Commissioner in 2019, she immediately improved the agency’s efficiency in processing concealed carry permits, a background check that involved similar criminal database searches.

In a March 2019 interview I conducted with Fried for The Capitolist, she said that the time needed to review the background checks, fingerprints, etc. to process the application went from right around the maximum allowed 90 days (under her predecessor, another NRA-beloved Republican named Adam Putnam) to “down to an average of 58 days,” a number that continued to decrease as the agency worked on “handling everything in a more efficient manner.”

Reached for comment today, Fried said that her team did in fact continue to improve processing times throughout her term in office.

“Covid definitely pushed us back as we saw an over 400% increase in applications,” said Fried, and the offices were closed so applicants couldn’t get their fingerprints taken until that opened back up. “So it took us a little bit of time to catch back up but it was a major priority for me to do so,” and the numbers were back down around the middle of 2021.

Fried’s chief of staff at the agency, Matthew Van Name, confirmed that information, telling Mediaite, “We got [the processing time] back down after Covid” to “sub 20 days,” with “surges at election time.”

Florida has since abolished the requirement to apply for a concealed carry license, instituting a “permitless carry” system in a bill signed by DeSantis that took effect July 1, 2023 — presumably eliminating a major chunk of administrative work for the Agriculture Commission and making it easier to process the similar background checks needed for those gun waiting periods.

And the Florida Statute that waived the 3-day waiting period for concealed carry permit holders still remains in effect, so everyone who qualified for a carry permit pre-2023 had the ability to simply continue to renew their license to avoid any waiting period, and everyone else has always had the option to apply and obtain that license and not have to deal with the waiting period either.

To sum up: 98% of background checks are completed “within minutes,” and any complaints about delays in processing the remaining 2% should be directed to DeSantis’ fellow Republican, a guy who got gold stars from the NRA and whose office had a significant part of its administrative gun regulation responsibilities abolished by statute last year.

But all this discussion about background checks and timing misses the point about the actual purpose of the 3-day waiting period: it’s not to give the government time to review the gun buyer’s background, but to give the gun buyer time to cool down — a topic of specific concern when Martin’s bill eliminates the waiting period on all non-handgun firearms, including the AR-15 type rifles that have been a prominent factor in so many deadly mass shootings.

“The last thing we need is to change state law to allow people to make impulse purchases of AR-15s,” former State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat now running for a state senate seat, told Orlando Sentinel reporter Skyler Swisher. “This law has saved lives. There is no reason whatsoever to repeal it.”

Swisher’s report on Martin’s bill noted that supporters of gun purchase waiting periods, or “cooling-off” periods, argue “they reduce suicides and homicides by delaying access to firearms for buyers dealing with bouts of rage or despair,” citing a 2017 Harvard University study that found waiting periods “led to a 17% reduction in gun homicides.”

In 2021, Pew Research Center data showed that guns are involved in more than half of all suicides (26,328 out of 48,183, or 55%) and over 8 out of every 10 murders (20,958 out of 26,031, or 81%) — and both numbers sadly hit near-record highs that year.

That’s the true purpose of Florida’s waiting period to buy guns — to give people a few days to pause before they put themselves or others into either of those tragic statistical categories — and DeSantis puts Floridians’ lives at risk by neglecting to respect that.

Watch above via CNN.

This article has been updated to clarify the waiting period definition.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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