A Closer Look at Constitutional Carry in Florida and Buying Your First Firearm

6.7 min read| Published On: June 28th, 2024|

By Cynthia McFarland

A Closer Look at Constitutional Carry in Florida and Buying Your First Firearm

6.7 min read| Published On: June 28th, 2024|

News reports during the summer of 2020 were probably the best marketing campaign for owning a firearm. 

Gun sales soared as the country reeled under pandemic fear and lockdowns with nearly constant reports of political and social unrest.

Almost 23 million guns were purchased in 2020 with nearly 5 million first-time buyers participating. The trend continued in 2021 as 5.4 million first-time gun buyers purchased a firearm.

Florida experienced a similar surge. In 2020, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported 1.5 million Floridians requested background checks to purchase a firearm, the highest number since the FDLE started releasing these statistics in 2004.

Then last year, Florida became the 26th state to enact Constitutional Carry legislation when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 543.

Rick Hansing-Instructor Firearms Conceal Carry, EGC Treasurer Board of Directors, Dina Houben-Facility Administrator, Sydney Chipchase-Instructor Firearms Conceal Carry, Secretary EGC Board of Directors, Dennis Garcia-Chief Range Safety Officer, Trainer Instructor Firearms Conceal Carry

Gun ownership by the numbers

Gun ownership in America is affirmed by the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Many Americans take that right seriously. 

Today, Americans own approximately 393.3 million firearms, giving the United States the world’s highest per capita rate of civilian gun ownership.

According to a 2023 Pew Research Center study, 32% of U.S. adults personally own a firearm. In Florida, slightly more than 35% of residents claim gun ownership.

As of November 2022, 22.01 million Americans have concealed carry permits.

In many states, to legally carry a concealed weapon, a gun owner must pass a background check, complete a short training and safety class, submit their fingerprints, pay a fee and keep the permit current as required by their state. 

Sydney Chipchase

About Florida’s constitutional carry law

Florida’s new concealed carry law went into effect on July 1, 2023. Since then, it’s no longer necessary to have a government-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon. 

Some people refer to that as “permit-less carry,” but you can’t just strap on a holster and walk down the sidewalk with your handgun. Restrictions still apply, including:   

  • You must pass a background check to purchase a gun to be legally eligible to carry.         
  • Carriers must carry a valid Florida ID at all times.
  • An ID must be presented to a law enforcement officer if asked. 
  • Firearms must be concealed, not carried openly.
  • Firearms can’t be brandished.
  • In a vehicle, when not concealed on your body, a gun must be “securely encased or otherwise not readily accessible for immediate use,” meaning not openly displayed on the dash, console or even just tucked under the seat.
  • Firearms are still prohibited in certain locations including courthouses, government meetings, police stations, schools, etc.

Supporters of the Second Amendment have widely praised the law, but experts admit one drawback is that people aren’t required to get any training.

“Now you don’t have to go through that two-hour concealed carry class and show you’re proficient in handling the weapon,” says Kyle Manning, manager at AW Peterson Gun Shop in Mount Dora. “As long as you’re legally able to purchase a gun, and have a valid Florida ID, you can carry.”


Choosing a firearm 

The first question an instructor or gun shop salesperson will ask a prospective firearm buyer is, “What do you plan to do with it?”

The answer to that question will determine which firearm is best to buy. Someone interested in self-defense probably won’t want the same kind of gun as the person planning to target practice or hunt.

Kyle notes that many people who plan to carry a concealed weapon want a small handgun or revolver.

However, he explains that a rifle or shotgun is usually easier to fire for someone who isn’t accustomed to shooting. They require shooters to have both hands on the weapon and their shoulder also helps with recoil.

“Don’t base what you know about guns on TV or movies. Most of what you see there is wrong and done incorrectly,” says Dennis Garcia, the chief range safety officer at Eustis Gun Club in Tavares. 

Dennis knows a lot about the right way to use a gun. He and his wife, Linda, are licensed and insured instructors who specialize in training new shooters at Team Garcia Firearm Instruction.

For example, the words “magazines” and “clips” are used interchangeably in movies without clarifying that magazines hold ammunition in handguns, while clips hold ammo in rifles. 

Learn before you buy

Despite Florida’s new law, both Dennis and Kyle strongly recommend first-time buyers participate in firearms training before purchasing a gun.

“Take a class first. Then you’ll feel more comfortable carrying the firearm,” Kyle says.

Basics usually include an introduction to different types of guns and calibers, safety and handling, and opportunities to shoot. Instructors charge anywhere from $50 to $150. 

Dennis customizes all his classes based on the experience of participating shooters. If they have no experience, he starts with the basics. He also brings several different guns so participants can shoot each one.

Some people sign up for a class knowing they want a handgun, but aren’t sure which type. And there are many types of handguns. 

For instance, with a single-action revolver (sometimes referred to as “cowboy-style”), you have to manually cock the hammer before pulling the trigger to fire the gun. With a double-action revolver, pulling the trigger cocks the hammer and fires the gun.

On the other hand, a semi-automatic handgun has a magazine that holds from five to 19 rounds, depending on type and size. When you rack the slide, that cocks the internal hammer, and once you pull the trigger, the gun will keep firing until all rounds are spent.

Dennis notes that the most popular handgun is currently a semiautomatic 9mm because it allows you to shoot faster and go through more rounds before having to reload.

In addition to helping shooters discover which firearm they’re most comfortable using, a good class teaches gun handling and safety measures.

“You resort to your highest level of training in a stressful situation, so if you don’t have any training, you’re still at ground level,” explains Dennis, adding that a lack of knowledge gets people in trouble.

Kyle agrees. 

“Accidental discharges and self-inflicted gunshot wounds happen when people don’t know how to properly clear a gun and make sure there’s not a round in the chamber when they’re going to clean it,” he says.

Dennis Garcia

Fit matters

A gun has to fit its shooter, Dennis says. 

“Fit is just like with shoes or cars; it’s different for everybody,” he explains. “When you pick up a gun and wrap your fingers around the grip, your three middle fingertips should go no more than halfway around the grip on the other side. There needs to be a space for your support hand. You want as much skin on the grip as possible for stability and control.”

For the record, your support hand is your non-dominant hand.

The biggest mistake Dennis sees is people buying a handgun for concealed carry that is too small for them. The gun may be too tiny to shoot consistently, or it doesn’t fit someone with a large hand.

If you visit a couple local gun stores, you can see what’s available and get a good idea of what firearm suits your needs. 

When a customer visits AW Peterson Gun Shop, they talk with a salesperson and can handle various guns to see which best fits them and feels the most comfortable.

“If you don’t like how it feels in your hands, you’re not going to like shooting it. Using a gun is just like driving; you have to practice,” Kyle says. “Guns don’t kill people, people do. A gun is just a tool like a hammer. If a gun doesn’t fit, it’s just a hammer,” Dennis says.

Try it first

Dennis jokingly tells people to leave their wallet in the car the first time they visit a gun shop.

After you’ve taken a lesson and gotten some training, you may want to visit a gun shop where you can rent and try at least a couple different firearms before you decide what to purchase.

If you aren’t quite sure which gun to buy, a shop like Shooters World in The Villages can help solve that dilemma. 

The chain allows customers to take advantage of their ‘Try Before You Buy” program. You can pay to rent one or several different styles or calibers of firearms to see which is the best fit and most suitable to your needs.

In addition to a small rental fee, you’ll pay for indoor range time, which was $20 per hour at press time.

For safety’s sake, Shooters World requires participants have at least two people in their group or bring their own personal firearms.

The importance of practice

When it comes to gun ownership, the old adage applies: Practice makes perfect. 

Central Florida residents have been practicing their shooting skills at Eustis Gun Club for the past century.

“We’ve been a club for 100 years, first in Eustis and at this location since 1987,” says Dina Houben, facility administrator and membership specialist. 

Located in Tavares, Eustis Gun Club is a nonprofit organization, not a business. Club members use the 25-acre facility to hone their skills with pistols, rifles, shotguns, air guns, and archery shooting. Eustis Gun Club is open seven days a week and only closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The club is the site of events like black powder matches, Single Action Shooting Society matches and more. It’s also home to the “Smoking Pigeons,” a shooting group for youths ages 10-18 that shoots skeet, trap and clays.

“You can come by any time during business hours and a range safety officer can give a full facility tour and answer your questions,” says Dina.

“We don’t rent guns or sell ammo, but we offer classrooms and have a list of 10 approved and vetted instructors who offer a wide variety of shooting lessons,” she adds.  

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About the Author: Cynthia McFarland

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