Article by Fort Meyers News-press: via wtsb.com
Fort Myers, Florida (News-Press) — A bill filed in the state Senate could take some of the pain out of applying for a concealed weapon permit.
If passed during the spring session, the bill would open more locations where Florida residents can apply.
Currently, residents must submit applications through one of eight regional offices of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The only Southwest Florida office is in Punta Gorda.
Senate Bill 544, filed Dec. 17 by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, would allow tax collectors to accept concealed weapon applications as well. There are six Lee County Tax Collector offices.
Applying for a concealed weapon permit is a hassle, and the new bill could help, said Jon Dezendorf, manager of Fowler Firearms in Fort Myers.
“I approve of it 100 percent,” he said. “Because the more locations the better. Get this thing taken care of.”
Applications taken by the tax collector’s office still would be sent to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for processing, said Department spokesman Aaron Keller. The requirements wouldn’t change – applicants would still be required to take a concealed weapon class and pass a background check.
“It would be another way for consumers to get it to us,” Keller said. “And just having more staff, it would certainly help cut down on some of that work load.”
The wait time for an appointment at the Punta Gorda office on Friday was about a week. The wait at the six Lee County Tax Collector offices was about 15-30 minutes.
Demand for licenses skyrocketed at the beginning of the year, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting prompted lawmakers to propose new gun control measures. The state could barely process license applications within the mandated 90-day period and hired 34 employees to help with the backlog.
Demand has since gone down, and applications typically take 40-45 days, Keller said. But he expects an increase in renewal applicants in 2015, as many licenses are set to expire. In 2008 the renewal period changed from every five years to every seven years. In 2015 the first batch of seven year licenses will be up for renewal.
Concealed weapon license applicants also can download the necessary forms online and mail them to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. But they need to have their fingerprints and passport photograph taken, and have the forms notarized. Many people find it easier to do it all at once at the Punta Gorda office, Dezendorf said.
This fiscal year, 46 percent of applications were submitted at one of the department’s eight regional offices, according to Keller.
The tax collector’s office also is equipped to take fingerprints, photographs and notarize documents, said Larry Hart, Lee County tax collector.
“It should be a very minimal impact on my office,” Hart said. “We process paperwork for the state every day.”
If the bill passes, Hart will apply through the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to be one of the tax collectors authorized to take applications. If his office is accepted, he probably will roll out the service in two county offices first.
“We’ll start it, and we’ll monitor it,” Hart said. “And if it’s a concern, we’ll make adjustments.”