Floridians have requested 187,162 concealed-weapon permit applications over the last six months - an 82 percent increase compared with a year earlier.
Gun dealers say sales have doubled or even tripled in recent months, with customers fearing for their safety in desperate economic times and worrying that President Barack Obama might resurrect some 1990s gun bans.
"I think we're seeing a weapons bubble similar to the housing bubble," said Sarasota gun dealer Brooke Misantone. "We're just seeing a lot more buyers, both first-time buyers and longtime gun owners who are worried about a ban on certain weapons."
The gun frenzy, mirroring a national increase, is a financial windfall for gun dealers.
But it raises safety concerns because criminals might nab more guns during burglaries and new owners may not be as safety conscious.
Florida has no gun registration requirements, but gun owners must be licensed if they want to carry a concealed weapon in public. State records show concealed-weapon permits jumped 27 percent in January compared with January 2008 and 61 percent compared with January 2007.
Many more permits would have been issued if state licensing officials were not swamped by applications, leading to a major backlog, apologies and a scramble to hire more workers. State leaders agreed Wednesday to hire 61 workers, at a cost of $3.8 million, to clear up a backlog of 93,000 applications.
Misantone and others stress the need for gun safety classes to the wave of first-time gun buyers, but not everyone takes the advice.
And with burglaries up, more weapons could be used in crimes if not properly secured.
"There are legitimate concerns that some of these firearms will get into bad guys' hands, which is why I recommend our customers buy a gun safe or have another way to secure their weapon," said Eric Dybing, a gun dealer and safety instructor in Hollywood, Fla.
Participation in the gun safety classes Dybing teaches statewide has doubled, with nearly 500 people taking his class in Palmetto last month at the Suncoast Gun Show.
Dybing believes that some buying is driven by irrational fears.
Obama said repeatedly during his campaign that he would not institute onerous gun restrictions.
"I think he has more to worry about right now," Dybing said. "But clearly the president is surrounded by pro-gun control people, and that has been a concern."
Gun enthusiasts are especially worried Obama might reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons, approved by President Bill Clinton in 1994. President George W. Bush let the ban expire in 2004.
It was unpopular with people like Myakka City resident John Gettle, partly because it limited ammunition magazines to 10 bullets.
Gettle, a gun collector, can burn through 10 bullets in 10 seconds at the shooting range with certain weapons.
"You're constantly having to reload; it's just a hassle," he said recently while buying a semi-automatic pistol with a 30-bullet clip from Misantone's shop, The Bullet Hole, in downtown Sarasota.
Some gun buyers are speculating that a ban could make some weapons worth more.
"People are also looking at these weapons as investments," Misantone said. "If they're banned, their value increases dramatically."
Gun policies have nothing to do with some other buyers' decisions.
Sarasota resident Roy Bodien has never been burglarized, but the economy has him concerned.
He and his wife bought two pistols recently.
"Drug dealers are moving into these foreclosed houses, and neighborhoods are going to pot," Bodien said. "When there's desperate times people take desperate measures."
The Florida gun boom corresponds with a national surge in gun ownership. The FBI reported 12.7 million background checks on gun buyers last year, up from 11.2 million in 2007.
In just the last three months of 2008, FBI background checks surged by 27 percent compared with the same period in 2007.