9 Investigates examines gun ownership and violent crime rates



LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - The City of Clermont may be best known as home to the Citrus Tower, but as 9 Investigates first revealed in February, it is also home to the ZIP code with the most concealed weapons permits in our area.

Lake County is central Florida's most highly armed county overall: 7.1 percent of its residents have a concealed weapon permit. And Lake County also has central Florida's lowest rate of violent crime.

"I think a lot of people would think twice about committing something like a carjacking or robbery or a burglary if they have an idea ... we have a lot of concealed weapons permit-holders," said T.J. Byrnes, an owner at Golden Triangle Guns in Tavares.

By contrast, Orange County has Central Florida's lowest percentage of concealed weapons relative to population -- just 4 percent. It also has the area's highest violent crime rate.

Byrnes makes the case that criminals strike less in areas where they're most likely to encounter a victim who's armed with a concealed weapon.

"If I know that you have a firearm, I'm going to really process that info before I decide to commit any type of violent act," Byrnes said.

But after area-wide research, 9 Investigates calculated that it's not always that simple in central Florida.

Take Seminole County: It has a low rate of concealed carry permits (4.2 percent of the population) but also a relatively low rate of violent crime. By contrast, Brevard County has a relatively high percentage of concealed carry permits (5.9 percent) but also has a relatively high rate of violent crime, compared to other central Florida counties.

University of Central Florida professor Jay Corzine argues that poverty, urbanization and population age impact violent crime rates more directly than do gun ownership rates and said gun ownership doesn't really have much impact on crime at all.

"The answer that most, not all, people agree on is that it just doesn't seem to make much difference one way or the other," said Corzine, a sociology professor who studies crime rates.

A portion of the violent crime in Orange County may be related to its 50 million annual tourists.

And overall, the issue is still evolving. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement performed about 294,000 background checks on concealed weapons permit applicants during the first quarter of this year -- a 36 percent increase over the same period one year earlier.

Furthermore, Florida does not register guns, so concealed weapons permits are simply one indicator of gun ownership. But those numbers still understate overall gun ownership totals.

Our original story looked at concealed carry permit data by ZIP code, but credible crime statistics are not available on a ZIP code by ZIP code basis.

Check on crime in your county:  FDLE Crime Data