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Gun In Hand, Tax Collector Johnston Heralds Fast-Track Concealed-Weapon Permitting

| June 22, 2016

suzanne johnston gun

Suzanne Johnston at the gun range on June 11, as she was going through the steps to secure her concealed-weapon permit. (© FlaglerLive)

Suzanne Johnston, Flagler County’s tax collector, had no way to know, as she was stepping in to take a three-hour class and shoot a few rounds at the range to get her concealed-weapon permit 11 days ago, that hours later Omar Mateen—who’d gone through the very process she was about to go through—would attack a gay club in Orlando, with a legally acquired assault weapon, and murder 49 people.


Not that it would have made a difference, except to underscore Floridians’—and local residents’—tendency to seek concealed-weapon permits in much larger numbers in the aftermath of a mass shooting anywhere in the country. It’s certainly been the case this time around: permit applications spiked in the state in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre.

Florida has long had one of the easiest methods of acquiring a concealed-weapon permit, with the Department of Agriculture, which oversees weapons permitting, seeing its growing permit numbers—1.58 million on the eve of the Orlando massacre—as a point of pride. Adam Putnam, the agriculture secretary, regularly advertises the state’s numbers and ease of permitting through the department’s website.

Now, the spike is coinciding with the latest effort by the state to make the process even easier: starting today, residents can go to their the Flagler County Tax Collector’s offices to apply and fast-track their concealed-weapon license, thus reducing the waiting period to get that license from months (if done by mail) to days. The other option until now, for a faster permit, was to go to one of the agriculture department’s eight regional office across the state. For Flagler residents, that meant either Jacksonville or Orlando. That laborious step has now been eliminated. “Think about the time it’s saving Flagler County residents,” Johnston said. It’s been a hit with local residents, nearly 10 percent of whom already have a permit.


“I don’t have a concealed weapon license, I don’t have a gun. I’m a girly-girl. Will I get one? I don’t know.”


“We’ve been busy. We had 14 yesterday afternoon for a friends and family day, and we’ve already done 33 today,” Johnston said. That was as of 1 p.m. The county administration issued a PR release announcing that Nate McLaughlin, the county commissioner, was the first individual to get a concealed-weapon license at Johnston’s office. She was the second.

“I haven’t shot a gun in 45 years,” she said on June 11, moments before the concealed-weapon class, “I don’t have a concealed weapon license, I don’t have a gun. I’m a girly-girl. Will I get one? I don’t know. I’ll get the license.”

Johnson is running for re-election this year, but this had nothing to do with the sort of ploy that drew attention to state Sen. Greg Evers’s crass raffle of an assault rifle, days after the Orlando massacre, as part of his campaign: Evers, desperate for votes and attention, is in a tight primary race for a congressional seat. Johnston, among the more popular elected officials in the county, has no opponent, and none would be likely to pose a challenge if she had one. Beyond mentioning her trip to the gun range on her Facebook page, she did not seek a reporter’s attention: she was asked if a reporter could tag along, and accepted.

Johnson had decided to attend the class—offered weekly by Kirk Chong at Larry’s Guns and Ammo in Bunnell—and to drag her entire staff of more than a dozen to attend it as well so they’d all be familiar and conversant with the process to better serve consumers. She sat through it mall, asked a few questions, and three hours later she was squeezing the trigger on a Glock, aiming for a target—and squeezing, and squeezing under Chong’s remarkably patient supervision: it took her a while to fire. The trigger took more effort than she’d expected. But once she started, she kept going, shot after shot, first sitting down, then standing up.

It was “like I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said between high-fives from her staff afterward. She reminded her adulators (whose checks she signs) that she couldn’t hit the target. She was, she said, “trying to remember everything, because remember they said your fingers will get pinched, burned or blown off if you had them in the wrong spot. Trying to remember where to look, and squeeze the trigger all at one time.”

Asked if she liked sensation of firing the gun, she said: “Not particularly. I mean, it’s not bad, but, oh, if it was a big moccasin there, I would definitely get him. Maybe. If I can hit him.”


Watch Suzanne Johnston Take Her First Shots

Johnston said she’d decided to go through the whole process “because the public is better off the more we know about the concealed weapon permit application, the more we’re able to help them. Going through the process of the gun-safety class, going through the process of filling out the application electronically, fingerprints, pictures, scanned documents—then, someone asks us a question, whether I’m in Publix grocery store or wherever I am, I’m better able to answer because I’ve been through it all.” As has her staff. “They’re all very interested. Part of those that were here will be actually doing the processing for concealed weapons.” Some employees that following week went to Tallahassee for further training.

“So we’re real excited about it,” Johnston said, as members of her staff were taking turns shooting at the range. “Any time we can offer a new service, we’re all for it. It’s the same process, like the Department of Health, where we can print Florida birth certificates for our residents. Anything I can do to help the residents, I’m all for. Every time there’s a service I can add, I do.”

The process, in addition to the usual fees, costs an extra $22 for new permits, $12 for renewals. But Johnston says that includes pictures and fingerprints, which for some residents comes out to less than what they would pay elsewhere. The fee for an initial concealed weapon license is $112, which includes the $42 finger-printing processing fee. A renewal costs $60. Cops pay less, judges pay nothing. The Flagler office expects to get a rush from Volusia County residents, because Volusia is a charter county: it has no constitutional tax collector’s office.

The application is a simple, two-page document (cover sheet and finger-print card aside), easier and quicker to fill out than a job application—name, address, sex, race, eye color, occupation, then 16 yes or no questions mostly asserting the legal residency of the applicant and his or her criminal and drug history, though state law is a generous chunk of Swiss cheese (or silence) when it comes to loopholes enabling almost all but felons to carry a gun (with Omar Mateen, who followed and cleared all legal steps, an example). Under Florida law, the information in the application is exempt from public record disclosure. See the full application below.

kirk chong larry's guns and ammo

Kirck Chong teaches a gun-safety class, a requirement of the concealed-weapon permitting process, every Saturday at Larry’s Guns and Ammo in Bunnell. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

The gun-safety class is a requirement before securing the concealed-weapon permit. At Larry’s, Chong, a charismatic gun enthusiast—and the gun store owner Larry Beighle’s son-in-law—leads the weekly Saturday morning class with humor, confidence, and generous helpings of NRA theology: the course is the NRA’s “Basic Shooting Course,” which includes some of that theology thrown in. (One of the reasons to own a gun? “Exercise of a constitutional right.”) Chong couldn’t help one mention of Hillary Clinton “opening her mouth saying she’s going to come after the guns,” but it was an errant one, and he spent the bulk of the three hours stressing the importance of responsible gun ownership, safety, ignorance not ever being a defense, and how even among trained gun owners—and instructors—a single instant’s lapse can be ruinous: he showed two videos featuring two instructors shooting themselves by accident, one of them while teaching a class the importance of the very safety measure he ignored at that moment (ensuring that the chamber of the gun, not just the magazine, is empty.)

Explaining the common instances of so-called misfires, or hang-fire (when the cartridge fails to fire when the trigger is pulled, but fires moments later) he showed the video of an individual taking his rifle and looking down the muzzle after just such an instance of hang-fire. You can imagine, sadly, what happened next. The gun went off.

“When you read in the paper about somebody accidentally being shot,” Johnston asked Chong during the class, is it typically that type of gun?” She was referring to a particular kind of pistol.

Chong didn’t hesitate: “No, typically it’s somebody who’s being an idiot, and they don’t want to tell the truth, so they blame it on the gun when they were messing around. Normally the guns don’t fire—very rarely guns fire by themselves, so people kind of make up stories. It’s pretty much passing the buck.” Accidents, he said, are the result of ignorance, carelessness, failure to observe proper procedure.

The class went into details about the variety of guns, ammunition knowledge, what guns are best for whom, what to do in active-shooter situations (escape, not confrontation, is the best policy, Chong said), range protocol and so on, before moving on to the range—the Flagler County Gun and Archery Club on County Road 90.

suzanne johnston shooting

(© FlaglerLive)

Florida Concealed Weapon License Application.

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38 Responses for “Gun In Hand, Tax Collector Johnston Heralds Fast-Track Concealed-Weapon Permitting”

  1. anonymous says:

    Trust me I’m buying a gun now.

  2. Gunslinger says says:

    I love it! The more good law abiding citizens who have and carry guns, the safer we will all be as a free nation. The second amendment was written to protect us from an oppressive government.

  3. Mark says:

    Liberals should be banned from having firearms.

  4. Michael says:

    Well now that commissioners and tax collectors are able to conceal. Will they allow conceal carry citizens in their government offices?

  5. Andy says:

    When a preschool teacher sees a kid hitting another kid with a stick, I agree that the best thing she should do is make it easier for all of the kids to get sticks.

  6. YankeeExPat says:

    aye matey!……….When wil thoust be obtainin a concealed Harpoon Permit. There be plenty of Pirates coming to shore in Palm Coast, not by schooners but in scallywag SUV’s

  7. mafungo says:

    Good for her.

  8. Oldseadog says:

    WOW

    Now when I enter a governmental service site in Flagler County, I shall be asking the workers if they are packing HEAT!……………………………………………. LOL

    (Sometimes I get too emotional in my complaints and will henceforth be much more careful.)

    An OLD SEA DOG

  9. Layla says:

    The kids are always going to get the sticks, whether they are legal or not. You may has well ensure they are well trained.

  10. Geezer says:

    Take off the Rolex when shooting–it’s tough on the watch’s automatic movement.

  11. GoodFella says:

    I only hope that these people understand that carrying a gun is not for everyone. Sure anyone with a clean record can apply and get one but will you be ready to actually use it and safely? Pulling out your gun is a last resort and you better be ready to use it and possibly kill someone or you may end up the one being shot and killed. Once you pull it out its fair play, they can take it from you and use it on you. I carry myself and understand that it could safe mine or possibly my families life. But its not a toy and it wont help you if your not ready to take a life. So before you all run to get your permit, think about it first. Are you really ready and able to take a life? If yes then by all means go ahead and get your permit and gun. If you are second guessing yourself, get a permit and a non lethal weapon!

  12. GoodFella says:

    Before you all run out and get your permits, you need to think hard about it. Are you willing and able to take someones life. Pulling out your gun may be the point of no return. You may be shot by the other person or freeze up and they kill you with your own gun. A permit does not guarantee that you are ready to kill. Its a false sense of security and not for anyone that thinks it will help them. The picture in this article is amusing. Is she going to put on her glasses and ear protection before she pulls out her gun. My family and I have our permits but we are ready and willing to take a life if ours is in danger or to protect a innocent bystander. Ask yourself, are you Really Ready? Maybe a permit with a non lethal weapon is a better choice for some.

  13. Outsider says:

    I believe it is against the rules for one kid to hit another with the stick; so you are saying some kids are not following the rules? Mark, all Americans have the right to defend themselves, even if they are liberals. The constitution applies to us all.

  14. Jose Rodriguez says:

    Taking a concealed weapons class in Bunnell does not put one in position to answer all questions and relate to what others would face in a class in Daytona Beach and elsewhere. I would like to know if our tax dollars paid for Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston or any of her staffs for their class and their license. It is of no benefit to pay extra money to the tax collector for a concealed weapons permit above and beyond what the Tallahassee charges when applications have to go through the processing and be approved by the state before the license can be issued. Do business with the Commissioner of Agricultures/Adam Putnam’s office directly and save those bucks, and time. http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Licensing/Concealed-Weapon-License

  15. yosh says:

    are you kidding? welcome to Dixie..Ya Hoo!…Please remember Sandy Hook Ct. etc.

  16. Ben Hogarth says:

    I’m all for concealed weapons license programs…

    I’m even more for weapons training: safety, maintenance, etc..

    But for those folks who are probably running to get their license and new toy – remember there are serious obligations that go with gun ownership if you are trying to follow the law and protect yourself and others.

    Don’t expect to be ready for game day anytime soon

  17. Joe says:

    @ Andy, who gives a crap about the teacher? I f anyone is coming at me with a big stick, I darn well sure would like to have one to defend myself, maybe if everyone in that massacre was armed there would only be 1 victim instead of 103!

  18. michael says:

    It would be nice if you could go to the gun range without belonging to a club maybe more people would get to know how to safely use there gun.

  19. Knightwatch says:

    So this is Floriduh’s future. All adults, 18y/o and up, will be armed. We’ll have pistols strapped to our waists and perhaps assult weapons across our shoulders. After all, we don’t want to be outgunned by the bad guys. We will carry our guns into shops, restaurants, theaters, schools, libraries, churches, hospitals and government offices. We’ll have gun racks on our golf carts as we play our 18 holes at Palm Harbor. If we see something suspicious, like an argument in a parking lot, or we get into a parking lot fenderbender we’ll draw our weapons because we can’t take the chance that the other human being won’t go postal. That will be new normal.

    And when we go nto a movie theater or grocery store, we’ll never know if someone is a real threat because everyone will have guns. So we’ll have to be on our toes, ready to draw draw down because we know the police will not be there when we need them. Of course, when they do arrive they won’t know who the bad guys are since we’ll all look bad. And, when a law enforcement officer stops to talk to you, you’ll actually be better armed than he or she is. So, that law enforcement officer will be on edge, stressed and ready to defend him/her self. He/she will be better trained and a better shot than you, so if you appear to make a threatening move, like reaching for your I.D. or handkerchief, you’ll be dead first.

    Yep… a nice sane and peaceful republicaNRA world.

  20. DaveT says:

    Remember Veterans only need their DD214 for their application for a CWP..

  21. proud yankee says:

    Do the people asking about someone having a gun at the Pulse club and how there would be less dead understand that the well trained, armed and professional Orlando Police are still trying to figure out how many people THEY killed?

    But somehow some dirty harry was gonna get the job done? keep dreaming.

    you want a gun, have at it. Just dont expect to be the big hero you see in the movies, never happens that way.

  22. Freddy says:

    I carry a gun to defend myself or my family. If a shooting occurs in a theater, restaurant, or a store my first obligation is to myself and my family. This means trying to get out or hide. I am no hero and not paid to confront gunmen or save other lives. My gun will only be used if my or my family’s life is threatened.

  23. Geezer says:

    michael:

    I used to go to Strickland Gun Range
    1180 Indian Lake Road, Daytona Beach
    Join for a year for 100.00 or 10.00 per day.
    It tends to get crowded though.

    The Flagler Gun Club is expensive, but worth it,
    if you have the spare change.

  24. Suzanne Johnston says:

    Mr. Rodriguez, I paid for my own class and those employees that wanted to take the class also paid for their own. The class was on a Saturday morning, so we were not on public time. I paid for my own license and any employees that want to complete an application must pay for their own also. The benefit of me taking the gun safety class and applying for a license is so I am better able to answer any questions from our residents about the process, and that is important to me. Since it is my choice to do this, I too feel that I should personally pay for this, not the public, and I did personally pay.

  25. Jose Rodriguez says:

    Does applying for a concealed weapon permit require a mental evaluation?

  26. Sherry says:

    I will NOT be voting for Suzanne Johnston to continue in any public office because of her stance on this issue! Guns, guns, guns lead to violence and violence is NOT the path to peace and safety!

  27. Bc. says:

    Wow the anti gun folks are so out of touch with the gun carrying folks. 1 you NEVER here a permit holder shooting up a place 2 if you were in a restaurant and terrorist walked in shooting would you like to have a few armed citizen in with you, or not if you say no you are full of s–t we the carrying gun folks are law biding we don’t break laws we have a rite to protect ourself evean if you liberals don’t like it we have a rite and you all will see this November what the country really wants and that is to protect our second amendment why must the liberals want to take our guns it will only make them more pron to violence the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. And FYI gun permit holders are not Rambo when you are walking around the market you can bet there are many gun toting permit holders in there with you but you would not no unless they had to try and save your life or there’s

  28. Outsider says:

    Sherry, Ms. Johnston has been assigned the task of taking applications and issuing renewals for CCW permits. She has not stated one way or another how she feels about concealed carry. I commend her for becoming more educated, at her own expense, mind you, so she is better able to carry out her duties for the public at large. Arming herself with knowledge (pun intended) is for the benefit of the public. I will happily to continue to vote for her, and with the evidence that the majority of posts here on a liberal website are supportive, I believe most will continue to vote for her. Good job Ms. Johnston.

  29. Why is the money hidden and not talked about? says:

    I read in the paper today that Flagler County was the 31st county to offer this service-why #31and not #1?
    I also learned that the permit application has to be approved by the state so this is no instant process. What I didn’t see in the paper today or on this blog that the people who want this permit are going to have to pay more for it if they go through Suzanne Johnston’s office rather than apply directly with the state. Why is Suzanne Johnston not telling us this and telling us how much more it is going to have to cost us going through her? This is a service all right, a service to suck more from the tax payer. I can see her budget increasing already and guess who funds that—US! This is a dumb move to allow people to apply through Tax Collector’s and is only to get more tax dollars from us.

  30. Tammy says:

    Andy, if the kid getting hit had his/her own stick, and all of the other kids had sticks and were using them safely and properly, then the kid who started the hitting would be taken down right away by all of the law abiding bystanders and/or the victim, and the hitter would not be able to inflict nearly as much harm as he would if he was the only one with a stick! Also, if he knew everyone else had a stick and weren’t afraid to use them, he’d think twice about hitting anyone in the first place. SO, HECK YEAH, GIVE ALL THE KIDS STICKS!

  31. Geezer says:

    Is that a Ruger 9mm? Miss Johnston looks like she’s having fun.
    Good for her!

  32. Geezer says:

    One more thing……

    I would have preferred to have started Miss Johnston with a .38 revolver.
    She may (or may not) have the requisite hand strength to rack the slide on
    that pistol, as demonstrated when she racked the pistol to clear the bad round
    to chamber a good one.

    Revolvers always go bang when the trigger is pulled, and in the rare case where
    they don’t — you pull the trigger again.

    Revolvers are my favorite.

  33. 107 says:

    Ms. Johnston- How could taking a concealed weapons class help you to answer questions about the process when every class is different? Did you really have to take the class to learn the process? Shouldn’t and wasn’t the process explained to you by the state who placed this responsibility upon you? I am convinced you are promoting us to be armed and that you are being silent on how much extra it is going to cost us to do business with tax collectors office instead of just doing business with Adam Putnam’s office.Over a period of time this will be a substantial amount of money! Why shoudl we pay more for you to do the same thing the state can do at no extra cost?

  34. just me says:

    i just love how the gun nuts on our left say EVERYONE will now, must or whatever way they put it will have a gun. NO not everyone MUST. Its a individual’s choice ( I know there is only one choice the left is for) to own one. What other constitutionally secured right do we have that we must first ask permission to freely exercise??

  35. John Staub says:

    Way to go, got my vote!
    Being educated and informed is the key. And thank you for helping us. Thank you for a job well done.

  36. just saying says:

    Geezer- that’s a training issue. The hold the slide in week hand, then drive the strong hand to work the action divides the work, is simple muscle memory to learn, and allows for much greater force to be applied in event of a malfunction.

    107- would you want a dentist that’s never had his teeth professionally cleaned? What about a mechanic that’s never driven a motor vehicle? If you’re concerned that each class is different, it would seem to me the correct action would be to take multiple classes and apply the knowledge as seems best.
    As far as why we should use the tax office, well you have to supply a passport photo and fingerprints if you wish to mail off the application. The tax office already has state approved cameras for taking ID photos. The tax office is also doing the finger prints which you have to get from the Palm Coast substation for a small fee. The $22 is really close in breaking even by the time you add those two cost together. Unless you think a trip to Jacksonville is cheaper than $22.

  37. Gunslinger says says:

    Proud Yankee,#1, It was last call before the place stopped serving drinks and most of the people in that bar were drunk which made it like shooting fish in a barrel for the shooter. #2, Weapons and alcohol don’t mix and that is why guns are not allowed in bars even by people with permits. There should have been a real guard stationed in that establishment not just a bouncer. #3, The cowardly bastards that carry out all of these attacks choose places with the least amount of resistance ,i.e. Newtown. Really, a bunch of children! Have any of them ever attacked a military base or police station that you know of where there is real resistance? #4 Orlando’s proud boys in blue stood down for almost 3 hours while this coward was systematically killing people. Yes, at that point if I were inside Pulse I would have been overjoyed to have seen a Dirty Harry type come busting through the door, no matter what happened. #5, The AR 15 used was a blessing to the 53 wounded people. The AR15/M16 is chosen by the military to basically kill 50% and maim 50% to pull more enemy combatants from battle to care for these wounded. If the shooter had used a larger caliber with hollow points the death toll would have been closer to 90%.
    The soft targets need to be made much harder and we should take some lessons from the people who have had to endure this cowardly terrorism for many years now, Israel. They are not perfect but they know a lot of tricks to save their peoples lives and stop an attack before it gets started.

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