Concealed weapons applications are at record highs in Florida, and Gulf County is no exception when it comes to the growth of the number of citizens securing that licensure.
Last year, for the first time, the total number of concealed weapons license (CWL) holders in the county topped, 2,000, reaching 2,141 in June, and likely higher since.
That total was nearly twice what it was five years ago, when it was at 1,146, and since then climbed about 150 to 200 each year.
A decade ago, there was a quarter the number of CWL holders in the county, just 575 in 2011, and after continuing to grow at a similar pace.
Florida CWL applications reached record-high volume in recent months, and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Licensing are touting their “continued strong customer service.”
October 2020 saw the highest number of CWL applications in Florida history, with 38,349 new CWL applications received in addition to 8,590 CWL renewal applications.
FDACS has received at least 36,000 new CWL applications every month since July 2020, with the department projected to process a record 305,043 new applications and 143,749 renewal applications in 2020.
FDACS is currently processing approximately 10,000 CWL applications per week.
By comparison, in 2019, FDACS received 202,698 new CWL applications, a monthly average of 16,891. In 2018, FDACS received 188,900 new CWL applications, a monthly average of 15,741. Applications typically increase in presidential election years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has likely driven higher application volume, read a release from Fried’s office.
The release said that after taking office in 2019, Fried made background checks a higher priority and reduced CWL application review times, which under the prior administration were as high as 88 days for applicants with prior arrests or prosecutions.
The office said the licensing division reduced initial review times by up to 98 percent for new applications.
The current review time for applications in verification (those with criminal history) is 42 days, and applications in processing (those without criminal history) is 43 days.
With the higher application volume and increased calls, some customers are experiencing longer than normal wait times for telephone and online chat support. The Division of Licensing offers live telephone, live web chat, and a callback service which allows customers to be called back in the order in which they called.
Current average wait times are 30:18 for live telephone support; 36:38 for live online chat support; and 1:49.00 for callbacks, with customers typically receiving a call back in under two hours.
Once in contact with an FDACS customer service agent, most customers are served, on average, in about four minutes, read the release.
In addition to a change in the intake process for CWL mail-in applications. FDACS has hired more than 20 additional (OPS) staff for the Division of Licensing call center, mail room, and license issuance to reduce wait times. An additional up to 15 temporary staff will be hired in the coming month to reduce wait times for licensing appointment scheduling.
The Division of Licensing has also increased the size of its telephone on-hold queue, in an effort to prevent customers from being disconnected.
Under Chapter 790, Florida Statutes, FDACS oversees the state’s concealed weapons licensing program, which leads the nation with more than 2 million license holders. CWL applicants may apply online, by mail, at participating county tax collector locations, or at an FDACS Division of Licensing regional office.
Following closures due to COVID-19, all FDACS regional offices have reopened to the public with new, enhanced safety precautions such as plexiglass barriers at fingerprinting stations, additional cleaning procedures, and text messaging for appointment confirmations, reminders, and check-ins. Customers are seen by appointment only, and masks are required to be worn.
Customers may apply online, download forms, or make an appointment by visiting the FDACS concealed weapons license website.
This article originally appeared on The Star: Concealed weapons licensure crosses 2,000 mark