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Licensing offices to begin reopening; concealed carry lawsuit still in play

The Department of Agriculture reopens its first regional licensing branch since the start of the pandemic.
The Department of Agriculture reopens its first regional licensing branch since the start of the pandemic.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Starting Monday, Floridians will once again be able to apply for a concealed carry permit online and the Department of Agriculture will open its first regional licensing branch since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of Agriculture closed all nine of its Division of Licensing branches and suspended online concealed carry applications in mid-March.

“Now it is time for the next step,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Thursday.

Fried announced the Tallahassee Regional Office will be the first to open its doors, and online applications will resume starting next week.

“We’re going to continue with a cautious, methodical plan for reopening and we will announce additional offices in the weeks to come,” Fried said.

But Jeff Hinkle, who helped coordinate a pending lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture, alleges the department’s actions during the pandemic violated Floridians’ Second Amendment rights.

“You are required in the Florida state law to actually provide these services such as fingerprinting etcetera, and it doesn’t give any options to not do it. It says you have to do it,” Hinkle said.

Fried said Thursday the decision to reopen was her own.

“I certainly as an attorney do not follow the whims of a frivolous lawsuit on our decision and policymaking,” Fried said.

Despite the closures, the department renewed and issued 84,000 licenses since March 1. That’s down about 30% from the same time last year.

Hinkle said the statistics are proof Floridians have had a more difficult time applying for concealed carry permits given record-setting gun sales this year.

“Background checks in March, just for Florida, were 192,000. That absolutely smashed the prior record from 2018,” Hinkle said. "So, really, that’s two-thirds less than they were issuing. It really should have probably been a third more than normal that they were issuing.”

The reopening announcement hasn’t slowed the lawsuit.

Hinkle said Floridians in other parts of the state shouldn’t be expected to travel to Tallahassee to get fingerprinted if their local police department or tax collector still isn’t collecting them.

At the Tallahassee Regional Office, city employees will wear face masks, shields and gloves while collecting fingerprints.

Visits will be by appointment only and can be scheduled by calling 850-245-5300.