Nikki Fried using confidential gun-owner data in campaign against Gov. Ron DeSantis

From the Second Amendment Foundation's Investigative Journalism Project

by Lee Williams

In a one-of-a-kind system unknown in other states, Florida’s wildly popular Concealed Weapon or Firearm Licensing program is overseen by the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture, in this case Nikki Fried.

Florida’s licensing division, which to date has issued more than 2.4 million CWFLs, is subordinate to Fried’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. State lawmakers once flirted with the idea of taking the CWFL program away from Fried and transferring responsibility for the concealed-carry licenses to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, but, ultimately, the changes were never made.

Fried is the only Democrat to hold statewide office in the Gunshine State, where last week Republican voters finally outnumbered registered Democrats. She is also the only state official known to possess both a CWFL and a Florida Medical Marijuana Card, regardless of the federal legal problems this creates when she purchases a firearm.

Now, Fried is using access to confidential gun-owner data that her position offers, in her campaign for governor against incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Fried has shrugged off scrutiny about her actions as well as attempts to gain clarity and accountability.

On July 27, at approximately 1:07 p.m., Fried tweeted: “I just suspended the concealed weapons permits of 22 people involved in the insurrection against the United States of America instigated by Donald Trump on January 6, 2021.”

Anti-gunners lauded her decision and her tweet.

“Thank you for being a real American. Those folks do not need to carry weapons,” one replied.

Gun owners saw it differently.

“So, you’ve stripped them of a constitutional right before they’ve even been convicted? I can’t wait until DeSantis destroys you because someone who abuses their position for political reasons should be in jail,” one replied.

State law allows Fried to suspend the CWFLs of licenses who are charged with certain crimes – usually felonies or misdemeanors involving domestic violence, which would prohibit someone from purchasing a firearm – until the final disposition of the case. However, not every crime qualifies. Several of the Jan. 6 attendees were charged with misdemeanors that would not prohibit a firearm purchase.

Fried’s 22 suspensions raised the question of whether she was taking legal action as the state official in charge of the CWFL program, or whether she grandstanding as part of her gubernatorial campaign.

Jacksonville attorney Eric Friday is general counsel for Florida Carry, Inc., a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots organization dedicated to advancing the fundamental civil right of all Floridians to keep and bear arms for self-defense as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 8 of the Florida Constitution.

At the direction of the Florida Carry board of directors, on July 28 Friday sent Fried’s office a public records request, seeking: “1. All notices of suspension of license or notice of intent to suspend, or any other communication sent to the 22 individuals by Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, or the Department of Agriculture, Division of Licensing as set forth in the Tweet by Commissioner Fried; 2. All charging documents or other information relied upon to suspend the 22 licensees identified in Commissioner Fried’s Tweet; 3. All information received from any law enforcement agency, a court, or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement regarding the 22 licensees and the arrests or charges which form the basis for the suspension of the license; and 4. Any subsequent written verification regarding the 22 licensees received by the Department of Agriculture from any law enforcement agency, a court, or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.”

To be clear, Friday did not ask for the names or other identifying information of the 22 licensees whose CWFLs were suspended: “Because the individually identifying information such as name and address of the 22 licensees is protected from disclosure by law, this information may be redacted from any documents responsive to this request,” his request states.

Fried ignored the public records request, which is a violation of state law.

Last month, Fried announced she suspended the CWFLs of six more Jan. 6 attendees, whom she called “domestic terrorists” and “traitors.”

“Today I'm announcing the suspension of six licenses of domestic terrorists who participated in the January 6 insurrection attempt against the United States,” she said in an Oct. 19 tweet. “That brings our total to 28 suspensions. As more charges are filed, we will continue to hold these traitors accountable.”

In a written statement, Fried said:

“The storming of the Capitol on January 6th where we witnessed acts of violence and domestic terrorism intended to undermine our democratic institutions shook our nation to its core – and its impact continues to be felt every day. The individuals involved must be held accountable for their treasonous actions. While Florida has the shameful distinction of being home to the largest proportion of individuals charged in relation to the insurrection, our department has been using its lawful authority and carrying out its legal duty to suspend the licenses of anyone charged with disqualifying offenses. When we announced the initial 22 suspensions earlier this summer, we made it clear that this would be an ongoing effort and that additional suspensions and revocations would be issued as additional charges were filed and sentences rendered. Since that time, FDACS has suspended six additional licenses of individuals related to the insurrection, and should further charges and sentences come down, we will enact further suspensions and revocations of licenses issued by our department as required by Florida statute.”

Two day later, Fried’s department officially acknowledged that they received Friday’s public records request, which was sent approximately three months prior.

Dear Requester,

Thank you for contacting the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (the department). Please consider this response as acknowledgement of the department’s receipt of your public records request. … You are encouraged to frequently check the GovQA portal for updates, clarification requests or cost estimates (if applicable). To search for updates to your submitted request, click on the “My Request Center” link and then click “Search by Reference Number”.

Sincerely,

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Public Records

Fried did not return calls, emails or messages left with her staff seeking comment for this story. To date, her department has not supplied any of the documents sought in Florida Carry’s public records request.

In an email sent Tuesday in response to a request to interview Fried, Erin M. Moffet, Fried’s Director of Strategic Communications & Federal Affairs, wrote:

“It is the Department’s position that providing the specific license types would lead to the disclosure of personally identifying information, which is required to remain confidential. Pursuant to Section 790.0601, Florida Statutes, FDACS can neither confirm nor deny whether an individual has ever applied for or received a concealed weapon or firearm license, as this information is exempt from disclosure as a public record.”

Moffett never addressed the intent of the original email – the request to interview Fried.

Sean Caranna is Florida Carry’s executive director and co-founder.

Said Caranna: “The reason that the licensing program was transferred to the Department of Agriculture years ago was to make sure that there would be an elected official who could be held responsible by the voters for abusing, misusing and failing to properly administer Florida’s first-of-its-kind shall-issue licensing program. Nikki Fried has just provided an important example of why that decision is still well-founded. She has mismanaged the program, infringed upon the people’s right to keep and bear arms, denied licenses without providing proof or evidence that people are disqualified, and now she uses secret information that is supposed to be confidential for her own political gains.”

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