JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - If you're planning to apply for a concealed weapons license in Florida, you'd better be planning to wait.
In the first month of the year, the number of people applying has skyrocketed, and the state is struggling to keep up.
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Division of Licensing, in January, 120,340 people either downloaded the application for a license online or requested it by mail. That's compared to 61,131 the month before, and 47,256 in January 2012.
The state is required to process applications within 90 days.
If you mail in your application, you should prepare to wait the full 90 days. If you decide to make an appointment and apply in person in Jacksonville, the next available date is three and a half months away.
That has many people who want their license at a standstill.
"It's shocking. If you want to legally get a permit to conceal a weapon and be able to carry one around with you, it shouldnt take so long," said Brian Fail, who's applying for a license.
Fail is coming to grips with the fact that he'll be waiting months to get it. He said it's frustrating for him and others he knows who are waiting, too.
"I've known people who have just said, 'Well, I'll just carry one anyway. I'd rather get in trouble for carrying a gun and save my life from someone who's trying to hurt me or rob me,'" Fail said.
Phillip Gazaleh, a manager at Green Acres Sporting Goods, says crime and gun laws are a concern many of his customers have. And he's not surprised by the license backlog because of the increase in people signing up for the concealed weapons class he teaches.
"The concealed weapons class really has tripled in size since the beginning of the year," Gazaleh said.
He says he used to have about 12 or 15 people in the class. Now it's about 60. Gun owners have to complete the class before applying for a license.
The state says that six months ago, it took about a month to a month and a half to process an application. Right now if you try to get in for an appointment at Jacksonville's regional licensing office, the next date available is May 28.
There are so many people applying for gun licenses in Florida that the Department of Agriculture has hired 34 more people to try to keep up to process the applications. It has also extended hours in some of the regional offices and is asking current employees to work overtime.
The department says there is no extra cost to taxpayers.
So if you're trying to figure out the quickest way to get your license, self defense expert Gary Belson gives this advice.
"Me personally, if I were doing it, I would make an appointment and then I'd mail it in," Belson said. "And if I got my license before the appointment, I would cancel my appointment. That's what I would do."
If you have missing documentation or there is a hole in your application, you will hear something from the department within 90 days. But it may take longer for your application to be approved.
The department says it has kept within the 90-day rule so far. Even though it is trying to get the applications processed as quickly as possible, it doesn't want to make mistakes and issue them to people who are not eligible.
If you have questions about the status application, you can call or go online, but make sure you have your T-number for reference.
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