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Backlog leaves door open for mentally ill to purchase guns

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As many as 5,700 people adjudicated mentally ill may have been able to buy a gun anyway because Florida’s Clerks of Courts were late entering the name into a database used for firearm background checks. 

Florida first began including the mentally ill in a background database used for firearm purchases in 2007. 

If a person is found to be mentally unstable they’re supposed to be entered in the database within a month, but a 2016 audit shows the vast majority are entered within two months, but in some cases it can take more than a year.

The audit showed 17 percent, or nearly one in five of the records were entered in to the database late.

Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz bought his guns legally, but the NRA says the backlog opens the door for a dangerous person to slip through the cracks.

“That information needs to go in within three hours or three days, not three months or three years,” said former NRA President, Marion Hammer.

Florida’s 67 clerks of courts are responsible for submitting the information to the Department of Law Enforcement, but no one is charged with holding them to the deadline.

“When they pass legislation and they don't give specific oversight, then everybody says it's not my job,” said Hammer.

Clerk of Courts say a major reason for the delay is a lack of funding.

Governor Rick Scott’s Office says it only recently learned of the problem. 

“There was an expose on this very issue back in October of 2017. So anybody who says in government that they didn't know about it is not paying attention,” said Hammer.

Clerks of Courts say they’re attempting to put together updated numbers to see if there’s been any improvement since the 2016 audit.

The problem has become an key issue in both the U.S. Senate and Governor’s race. 

Senator Bill Nelson accused Scott’s administration for failing to address the backlog. 

Scott’s Office responded saying, “FDLE will continue to identify additional grants and resources to provide even more assistance to the clerks.”