Deputy commissioner for consumer affairs Mary Barzee Flores. Courtesy photo. Deputy commissioner for consumer affairs Mary Barzee Flores. Courtesy photo.

Florida’s most influential gun-rights lobbyist says don’t move — at least for now — the state’s concealed-weapons licensing program from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

But in a thin olive branch to Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer in a letter posted online Tuesday also made clear she and the other concealed-carry permit holders in the state — there were 1.95 million as of Jan. 15 — will be watching how Fried handles the high-profile program.

“We believe the program should stay where it is and it’ll be up to Commissioner Fried to keep her campaign promise to correct any problems a legitimate investigation reveals,” Hammer wrote. “And if she really wants to be a workhorse and not a show horse, we’ll be happy to hold her coat or help if she wants our help.”

Hammer and Fried have verbally dueled since last year’s election campaign over the licensing program and the lobbyist’s access to the agency under former Republican Commissioner Adam Putnam, who became embroiled in allegations of mismanagement of the program.

Fried, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who has said “Hammer no longer runs this department,” at one time tweeted that the agriculture department was the wrong place for the concealed-carry program and supported a move to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Since then, Fried has downplayed a bill (SB 108) by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, to relocate the program to the FDLE. Fried has also repeated that her priority is to take a “deep dive” into recommendations about the program from an internal report and a separate inspector general’s report.

“From all the reports we saw there, this was mismanaged by the office, a climate that showed pushing the applications out as fast as possible without the double checks,” Fried said last week.

Fried has also named former Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Mary Barzee Flores, a gun-control advocate, as her department’s deputy commissioner for consumer affairs, with one duty being to oversee concealed-weapons licensing.

Hammer in November said the program needed to remain under a statewide elected official, with a preference going to Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City Republican.

However, Republican legislative leaders haven’t publicly endorsed such a move.

And while Hammer maintained in the letter that the program should remain with a statewide elected official, “who must swear to uphold the Constitution and the law and can be held accountable by the people,” she also retained her opposition to moving the program to law enforcement.

In her letter, Hammer advised her organization’s members that Fried and Barzee Flores “can’t use their personal political philosophies to re-tool or dismantle a program governed by the Constitution and the law.”

“Fried campaigned on a pledge to fix problems with the program, not destroy it,” Hammer continued. “We actually welcome efforts to fix any real problems — but they have to be actual problems, not imagined or manufactured problems like those in the media.

“We’re willing to let Commissioner Fried show Floridians that she can be fair and properly administer the program. If she’s afraid to keep the Licensing program, we’ll find out soon enough.”

Jim Turner reports for the News Service of Florida.