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Concealed weapons licenses explode

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

Concealed weapons license holders in Franklin County have nearly doubled in the last five years, and nearly tripled since 2011.

According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as of Nov. 30 there were 1,333 concealed weapons license (CWL) holder in the county, compared to 702 in 2015.

Nikki Fried

The numbers were at 532 in 2012, and have climbed steadily since then, to 566 in 2013, 627 in 2014, 806 in 2016 and 894 in 2017.

After that he took a big leap to 1,047 in 2018, and to 1,159 last year.

With Florida CWL applications reached record-high volume in recent months, as Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, and FDACS’s Division of Licensing moved to ensure 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.

Upon taking office in 2019, Fried prioritized background checks and reducing CWL application review times, which under the prior administration were as high as 88 days for applicants with prior arrests or prosecutions. Under new leadership, the Division of Licensing reduced initial review times by up to 98 percent for new applications.

Due to the historic volume of 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 dramatically increased application volume and increased calls to the Division of Licensing, 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 minutes and 18 seconds 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 currently served, on average, in about four minutes. During the past month, the Division of Licensing assisted 68,605 customers through telephone and online chat.

FDACS is taking several steps to reduce application review times and customer phone and chat wait times. In July, FDACS appointed new section leadership within its Bureau of Support Services and streamlined the intake process for CWL mail-in applications. FDACS has also 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.

“Upon taking office, I assured Floridians that our state’s concealed weapons licensing would become not only more efficient, but more accountable,” said Fried. “While we’ve reduced initial review times up to 98 percent, we can’t rest on that success. With record-high application volume, we’re processing more than 10,000 concealed weapons license applications each week, but we know increased wait times can be frustrating. That’s why we’re hiring more staff and further streamlining our processes to reduce both application review times and customer service times. And of course, we’re ensuring every applicant gets the full background check required by law.”

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.