Concealed weapons on the rise in Florida, state poised to hit 1 million mark for weapons permits

The number of Floridians packing concealed weapons is booming and within a matter of weeks should hit the one million mark, making the state the first in the nation to reach that milestone in personal firepower.

That's the result of the state issuing between 10,000 and 12,000 carry permits a month.

"At the rate at which we are processing permits, we will sometime in the next six weeks to two months likely reach the million permit mark," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Wednesday.

And South Florida's armed populace leads the state. As of June 30, Miami-Dade County, with 84,940, had the most pistol-packing residents. Broward came in second, with 74,439, and Palm Beach County was number three, with 60,315 carry permits.

The upward trend in carry permit applications started about three years ago, coinciding with the election of President Barack Obama. "There always seems to be a concern when there's a change in federal administration, when there might be some attention placed on gun control laws," said Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which handles carry permits.

"What was thought to be a spike has really turned into a sustained period of peak demand," Putnam said.

Men, mostly middle-aged, make up 80 percent of those carrying hidden guns, or about one in 20 of Florida's 19.3 million population. Of Florida's 952,000 total permit holders, the majority, 243,505, are between the ages of 51 and 65. About 11 percent of all permit holders are from out of state.

Gun sales in Florida have likewise risen, by 96 percent from 2002 to the end of 2011.

In Colorado, gun sales jumped 43 percent in the three days after a gunman killed 12 and wounded 58 at last Friday's screening of the new Batman film in Aurora.

But gun sales in Florida, according to figures from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, remained relatively stable during the same three-day period.

Any increase in carry permits is "absolutely unrelated to Colorado," said Ivey, who noted that permit applications, which involve fingerprints, photos and background checks, take weeks to process.

But Mike Caruso, longtime owner of the Delray Shooting Center, has a different view. "Monday, we had people coming in left and right buying guns because of what took place in Colorado," he said. "It's like they were in a carnival stepping up to buy popcorn."

Caruso said customers buy guns or apply for permits for two reasons: They're afraid to go out unarmed in case of a situation such as Colorado's, and they fear such situations would lead to tighter gun control.

"People are afraid they're going to get shut out," he said. "It's fear driven, any way you look at it."

Information from The News Service of Florida was used in this report.