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How to apply

• What: A Florida concealed weapon or firearm license gives the holder the right to carry handguns, electronic weapons or devices, tear gas guns, knives or billy clubs.
• Apply in person: Applicants can make an appointment to fill out an application, submit the application and have fingerprints and a photograph taken at one of the Division of Licensing’s eight regional offices. Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties are served by the Punta Gorda office at 230 Bal Harbor Blvd., Suite 111, Punta Gorda. Call 575-5570 for an appointment.
• Mail in an application: Online, you can download an application or request it be mailed to you at mylicensesite.com. Completed applications can be mailed in with a passport-size photograph and legible fingerprints. Call the Lee County Sheriff’s Office at 477-1000 or the Collier County Sheriff’s Office at 793-9319 to have your fingerprints taken. Mail applications to the Division of Licensing, PO Box 6687, Tallahassee, FL 32314-6687.
• Cost: There is a fee of about $35 for fingerprints, a $42 fingerprint processing fee and a $70 licensing fee.

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Anyone who wants a Florida concealed weapons license may be looking at a long wait, as demand skyrockets and the state struggles to keep up.

Last month, 120,340 people either downloaded the application for a license online or requested it by mail, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Licensing. That’s compared with 61,131 the month before, and 47,256 in January 2012.

“There is unfortunately a little bit of a wait time right now,” said Whitney Shiver, the department’s government analyst.

Florida law gives the Division of Licensing 90 days to turn around an application for a concealed weapons license, and the division is taking close to that full time. About six months ago, processing took closer to 30-45 days, Shiver said.

Staff are doing their best to stay under the 90-day limit, Shiver said. Over the past eight weeks or so, the Division of Licensing has hired 34 temporary employees and authorized overtime hours to help keep up with demand. The department also extended hours in some of its eight regional offices.

Applicants can download the two-page concealed weapons license application online, or request online it be mailed. They also can fill it out at a regional office, but Shiver said that is probably the slowest option. Last week the Punta Gorda office, which serves Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties, was booked until May 21. The other eight offices had a similar wait, with the Orlando office booked until June 24.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which conducts background checks on license applicants, is not contributing to the delay, spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said. FDLE turns around background checks within 72 hours and has not experienced a backlog, she said.

Leon Goldsmith, 45, of Buckingham, wants a concealed weapon license to streamline the process of buying a firearm for home defense. But it’s been about 120 days since he applied, and he doesn’t have a permit. Goldsmith and his wife submitted their applications on the same day in early October, and she received hers on Christmas Eve, he said.

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“I was starting to get frustrated,” Goldsmith said. “I started trying to call their numbers and I got a recording that says due to a large increase in applications there was going to be some processing delays. I didn’t get to talk to a live person or anything.”

Jon Dezendorf, manager of Fowler Firearms in Fort Myers, said he has seen at least a 50 percent increase in participants in his concealed weapons classes the past few months.

“Self defense in general,” he said, when asked why. “That’s the only reason you’re really going for the concealed weapons permit. People are just more concerned with all the shootings that are going on right now.”

Dezendorf offers the class five times a week, and instructs a few hundred people a month.

Jon Gutmacher, an Orlando firearms attorney, said a few people have emailed him to say it’s taken longer than the 90-day limit to receive their concealed weapons licenses.

“I said just be patient,” Gutmacher said, “because unfortunately it’s really not their fault.”

There are no penalties in place if the division of licensing goes over the 90 day window, he said.

“When your head’s below water, there’s not much you can do,” Guatmacher said.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website says it can take longer than 90 days to turn around an application with errors. For example, it could take longer to process cases where application questions have been missed, checks are for the wrong amount, fingerprints are illegible or background checks show criminal cases with pending dispositions.

Charles Berrane, a firearms instructor and owner of a Miami gun store, said the division of licensing recently streamlined the application process and cut down on wait time with features such as electronic fingerprint submissions. Berrane said a year and a half ago his neighbor received a concealed weapons license within a week.

“They were down from anywhere to three days to seven days for most applicants,” he said. “I must admit to you, the expectations were it was going to stay there.”

Connect with this reporter: facebook.com/marisakendallnp (Facebook), @MarisaKendall (Twitter)

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