More than 2.61 million people had Florida concealed weapons licenses as of Nov. 30, according to the News Service of Florida. Of the state’s 67 counties, Lake and Marion are in the Top 15 for the number of license holders.
The state has issued 63,639 permits in Lake County and 55,855 in Marion. Miami-Dade is tops with 202,894, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
To put it in perspective, Lake County’s population in 2021 was 395,804, according to Florida-Demographics.com. Marion County’s was 385,915.
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The Lake County picture
Lake County Property Appraiser Carey Baker believes he knows why his county has so many permit holders.
“We’re still a rural-ish county,” he said.
Before devastating freezes in the early 1980s, Lake was the king of citrus groves, box plants, packing houses and juice factories. South Lake is now a bedroom community for Orlando, while the rest of the county is growing rapidly. Both Lake and Marion have chunks of the thriving Villages retirement community, but there are still some vast undeveloped tracts.
Politically speaking, Baker said, Republicans are more likely to be gun owners. Lake and Marion both are solid GOP at the voting booth. All of the constitutional officers in Lake and Marion are Republicans.
Marion has 273,935 registered voters, with 127,853 (46.7%) registered Republican. The rest are Democrats (28.8%) or other (24.5%.) In Lake, 44% of registered voters are Republican, compared with Democrats (27.5%) and other (28.5%.) In last month’s election for governor, Gov. Ron DeSantis took 69.23% of the Marion vote and 66.54% of the Lake vote.
Baker has a unique perspective in another way: He is the owner of A.W. Peterson’s Gun Shop, a longtime fixture in Mount Dora.
His shop is one of many that provides a certified National Rifle Association instructor for those seeking a concealed weapons permit. A certificate of safety and competency is mandatory, with the exception of veterans, active military personnel, and police and security officers.
The Marion County picture
George Albright, Marion County’s tax collector, said it’s no secret why so many people want to get a concealed weapons permit.
“People are scared anytime there is an elected Democratic president that their guns are going to be taken away,” he said.
The defund the police movement also frightened people. “They’re afraid that law enforcement won’t be able to help them. Thirdly, there is a need and a right to protect themselves and their family under the Second Amendment,” Albright said.
Pistol shooting is also a popular sport, so it is only natural that people might want a permit if they like target shooting.
It is a boon to collectors, too: Permit holders don’t have to go through the three-day waiting period to buy a weapon.
Albright, who is a Republican, said politics has nothing to do with his office helping applicants. “I swore to uphold the law.”
His office is set up as a one-stop operation. Fingerprints, the application and required photo are combined electronically and sent to Tallahassee.
Word has spread about the speed of the operation, Albright said, so people come from as far away as Miami-Dade County.
Helping applicants since 2015, Marion County has processed 5,419 applications for new and renewed permits from Oct. 1, 2021 to Sept. 30 of this year alone, he said.
A sense of security
Being able to carry a weapon gives people a sense of security, Baker said. Headlines about mass shootings or one-on-on deaths, including at stores, send shivers down people’s spines.
In 2018, David Johnson killed Carli Cronin in a domestic dispute at the Walmart on Silver Springs Boulevard in Ocala, then turned the gun on himself. Drug dealers shot one of their suppliers at the Walmart in Fruitland in 2016. Twenty-three people were killed at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas in 2019.
It’s not just Walmart, of course. There have been mass casualties at churches and synagogues and many other places, as well.
Authorities for the past few years have been boasting that violent crime is down in America, but it has risen recently. The peak was in 1992 with 1,932,274 incidents, according to usafacts.org, quoting FBI statistics. In 2014, it was at 1,153,022, but rose to 1,313,105 in 2020. A sharp increase in aggravated assault was the main reason.
Most people don’t carry guns all the time. In fact, many just keep weapons in their vehicle or purse, Baker said. In fact, he has seen a sharp rise in the number of women seeking permits.
“It used to be 7 or 8 percent, but it is well over 24 percent now,” he said.
One reason for the high number of permits issued is that Florida was one of the first large states to go from “may issue” to “shall issue,” according to a USA Today story in June.
Another reason is that 36 states now recognize other states’ permits, Baker said.
“You still have to abide by their laws,” he said. His gun store sells a pamphlet detailing the different laws. “You can also find them online,” he said.
Florida might be going one step further: As Gannett Florida recently reported, DeSantis supports “constitutional carry” legislation, which if passed would allow Floridians to carry a gun without a permit.
The current carry law is not without controversy. The Violence Policy Center says 2,240 people have been killed by concealed carry shooters.
Gun rights advocates, including some law firms, argue that it is a deterrent to violent crime. Police can’t be everywhere, so you can immediately protect yourself and your family. Not every confrontation ends with the permit holder pulling the trigger.
“This office strongly supports the Second Amendment and I encourage our citizens to lawfully carry concealed. We also offer free fingerprinting services for our Lake County citizens who apply for their Concealed Weapons Permit,” said Lake Sheriff Peyton Grinnell.
“Statistically speaking, permit holders are extraordinarily responsible,” Baker said. “Probably as a group they are the most honest group.”
Not only are they abiding by the law seeking a permit, but they know they risk losing their license and breaking the law if they misuse a weapon, in some cases, committing a felony, he said.
How do you get a concealed weapon license?
You can apply for a concealed weapon license at a regional office of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. You can also apply online. The Lake County Tax Collector’s Office helps applicants at its Leesburg or Clermont office. The Marion County Tax Collector’s Office, likewise, takes fingerprints and helps submit the application to the state at its main office on 25th Avenue in Ocala.
Applicants must be 21 or older and not be convicted of a felony. Florida Statute 790 also spells out citizenship or alien residency requirements, restrictions or prohibitions for controlled drugs, domestic violence crimes, alcohol abuse, and any physical disabilities that would prohibit safe use of firearms or people who have been committed to mental institutions.
You can also apply online. Information is also online about making an appointment.
Applicants must bring a driver’s license or state identification card and a copy of a training document to show you are proficient with a firearm.
The fee is $97, which includes fingerprint processing. The license is good for seven years. The renewal fee is $42. Tax collectors can collect an additional $12.
The license process takes about an hour. The Florida department has 90 days to respond to the application. Applications by active military personnel or veterans will be expedited. Active military personnel must bring their military identification, and honorably discharged vets should submit a copy of their DD 214 long form.
Persons seeking a permit must show a certificate of completion involving certified instructors from the National Rifle Association, Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, or the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Included are law enforcement firearms safety or training courses for security guards, investigators, or special deputies.
The law lists several places where firearms are prohibited regardless if you have a permit: police stations, jails, courthouses, polling places, government board meeting, the state Capitol, schools or school athletic events, any career center, bars, airports and any federal establishment where guns are banned.
Violators can face second-degree misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Places where permit holders can carry under the law for “safety, security, personal protection, or any other lawful purpose” are churches, synagogues or “other religious institution.”
Other top counties in the number of permits issued are:
Broward County, 182,491 permits
Palm Beach County, 144,152
Hillsborough County, 140,992
Orange County, 118,243
Duval County, 112,882
Pinellas County, 94.278
Lee County, 91,417
Brevard County, 86,600
Polk County, 84,996
Volusia County, 75,088
Pasco County, 70,462
Sarasota County, 52,537