CLERMONT, Fla. - Lake County's "Gem of the Hills" is known for the 22-story Citrus Tower and traditional American values. But beneath the moss-covered trees, the town is hiding something: the largest number of concealed-weapons permits in Central Florida.
"People know how to use their weapons out here. They like their weapons," said Clermont resident Nancy Crosby.
A public records request by 9 Investigates revealed the number of concealed-weapons permits in each ZIP code across central Florida.
(Names and other personal identifying information of concealed-weapons permit holders is not public record in Florida.)
According to that data, the 34711 ZIP code in Clermont has the most concealed-weapons permits: 2,993. The 32174 ZIP code of Ormond Beach has the second most with 2,878 permits.
9 Investigates found other fascinating patterns in the permit data: Lake County, which has one of the area's lowest populations, has the highest percentage of residents with concealed weapons.
Meanwhile, Orange County, which is more urban and easily the most populated local county, has the lowest rate.
And even though Lake has the highest percentage of permit holders, Brevard County saw the fastest growth in permits last year: a 13.6 percent jump.
But from neighborhood to neighborhood, there are vast disparities: ZIP code 32114, home to Daytona International Speedway, has 808 concealed-weapons permits.
And the downtown Orlando ZIP code has 447, but other well-known spots have almost none.
A ZIP code in the Disney area has just 22 permits, and the Kennedy Space Center's ZIP code has none.
Compared to just one year ago, the number of concealed-weapons permits across central Florida has climbed by 12 percent.
Parramore Pastor Carroll Johnson, who has pushed for tighter gun rules, worries that more concealed-carry permits simply means more guns, which may end up in the wrong hands.
"I've seen the devastation of gun violence. It has emptied out neighborhoods," said Johnson, of Maximum Life Church.
For Clermont resident Melissa Farris, guns are both a comfort and a concern. She pulled her stepson out of public school, terrified by the Sandy Hook shooting massacre in Connecticut. But now, a gun keeps the pair safe as she teaches him at home.
"If they come into my house -- I'll send them out the back door," said Farris.
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