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Florida nears 1 million permits for concealed weapons

By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - The number of active concealed weapons licenses in Florida, already home to more owners of such registered weapons than any other U.S. state, is expected to reach the 1 million mark next week, a state official said on Wednesday.

Applications for the permits in the state of 19.1 million people have doubled since 2007. Only 0.3 percent of the more than 2 million total permits issued since 1987 have been revoked, said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

"Floridians who are obtaining these licenses are obtaining them for the right reason and are using them in an appropriate way," Putnam said.

The state processed more criminal background checks for firearm purchases on Black Friday, the busy shopping day that follows Thanksgiving, than any single other day in the state's history, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said.

Florida has been a bastion for gun owners, with some of the most expansive laws on the books regarding who can carry weapons and when they can be used.

A state law that can make it difficult to prosecute shooters who claim self-defense has come under scrutiny following the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in February.

George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, faces second-degree murder charges in the 17-year-old's killing. Zimmerman's attorneys have said his actions were legal under the state's Stand Your Ground law, which allows the use of deadly force by someone who feels his life is in danger.

Former National Rifle Association President Marion Hammer said a spike in gun sales since 2007 is due to concerns by gun owners that Democratic President Barack Obama would push for stricter federal gun laws.

She said the increase in the number of owners of licensed concealed weapons is a positive sign because of the additional training required.

"The number of gun owners is up and crime is down," Hammer said. "Criminals commit crimes, but they aren't stupid. They don't want to get shot."

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Christopher Wilson)

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