Licensing offices to begin reopening, concealed carry lawsuit still in play
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 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,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried Thursday.
Fried announced the regional licensing office in the state capital 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,” said Fried.
But Jeff Hinkle, who helped coordinate a pending lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture alleges the Department’s actions during the pandemic violated Floridians’ 2nd Amendment rights.
“You are required in Florida state law to actually provide these services such as finger printing etcetera, and it doesn't give any options to not do it. It says you have to do it,” said Hinkle.
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 policy making,” said Fried.
Despite the closures, the Department renewed and issued 84,000 licenses since March 1st.
That’s down about 30 percent 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,” said Hinkle. "So really, that 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 office in the capital 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.