County Tax Collector Ben Anderson said his office hasn't seen a major jump in the number of people applying for concealed weapon permits over the past month.
On Feb. 21, the County Commission approved allowing non-sworn county employees who have a concealed weapon license to carry firearms in county vehicles and on most county properties. A previous, decades-old policy largely had prevented Okaloosa’s more than 800 non-sworn workers from carrying guns on the job.
The change in policy was spearheaded by Commission Vice Chairman Graham Fountain, who was elected last fall and is a certified law enforcement officer.
The policy switch will allow non-sworn workers “to no longer be second-class citizens,” Fountain said before the change was approved.
Anderson said Monday his office does not keep data on whether concealed weapon license applicants work for the county. Still, since the policy change occurred, his office has not seen “any kind of major increase” in applications.
The tax collector’s offices in Crestview and Niceville partner with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to provide concealed weapon license applications and licenses. The Niceville office began providing the service last fall. Anderson's office in Shalimar does not provide concealed weapons applications and licenses.
As of Feb. 28, Okaloosa County had 29,074 concealed weapon license holders, or about 14.6 percent of the county's total population of roughly 199,000 residents. Santa Rosa County had 19,695 license holders and Walton County had 5,808 as of Feb. 28, according to state data.
Miami-Dade had 131,192 license holders, the most of any of Florida’s 67 counties. But with a population of about 2.7 million, that county’s percentage of license holders is less than 5 percent.
Lafayette County, located between Tallahassee and Gainesville, had 424 license holders, the fewest of any county, as of Feb. 28.
Anderson attributes Okaloosa County having a much higher percentage of license holders compared to Miami-Dade County to a couple of things.
“We’re a very conservative group here, and we probably have the most concentrated military influence,” he said. “We have a large number of military members, both active and retired, who understand our Second Amendment rights.”
Anderson also noted that Okaloosa County has the only two tax collector offices on a military installation in Florida.
“When the military transfers in, the bases have a newcomers' welcome,” he said. “We always participate in that because typically the tax collector is the first face of local government they meet.”
One of those welcome events was last week for the Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), whose post is on Eglin Air Force Base land south of Crestview. At that event, the most common question posed to tax collector officials pertained to hunting licenses, and the second most-often asked inquiry dealt with concealed weapon permits, Anderson said.
“It’s the first time we’ve seen at one of these new orientations that (the concealed weapon permit question) is right there at the top,” he said. “Hunting has always been a top issue with the 7th Special Forces. A lot of those guys are hunters. This time, the concealed weapons' issue rose up,” followed by questions on license plates and driver’s licenses.
While demand for concealed weapon licenses is steady in the Niceville office, it’s higher in Crestview, Anderson said.
“People are probably more comfortable with weapons” in the northern, more rural part of the county, he said.
The statewide number of concealed weapon license holders as of Feb. 28 was more than 1.7 million, or about 8.5 percent of Florida's population. That overall number of license holders included almost 221,000 out-of-state residents.
Among other requirements, license applicants must be 21 or older, pass a background check and provide firearm training documentation. By law, the state must either issue a license or deny an application within 90 days of receiving a complete application.
The license is valid for seven years. License fees vary. For example, a Florida resident who is applying for the first time is charged $124. The charge consists of a $60 initial license fee, a $42 fingerprint processing fee and a $22 tax collector processing fee.
The full fee schedule and other application information is at www.okaloosatax.com/services/concealed-weapons. To learn more, call 850-651-7300.// //