JACKSONVILLE, FLA. -- The percentage of killings committed with handguns in Florida rose slightly in the month after the state liberalized the licensing of concealed firearms, state figures show.

But many observers said the figures are too limited to show a trend toward more handgun homicides, something opponents of the law had predicted.

"It would require a period of time before we have sufficient data to establish a trend," said Stewart Schurr, an information specialist for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The law, which took effect Oct. 1, took away the counties' power to issue or withhold licenses for concealed firearms and gave it to the state. It also simplified requirements for obtaining a permit.

Preliminary statistics collected by the Department of Law Enforcement show that 43 percent of the homicides committed in October were carried out with handguns, compared with 39 percent statewide during the first nine months of the year.

The figures are based on the 92 homicides in October for which the agency had collected information on the type of murder weapon, Schurr said.

Forty of the homicides were committed with handguns, according to Schurr.

There were 106 killings in October and 987 in the previous nine months.

Law enforcement officials and gun-rights activists, who said they planned to monitor handgun violence to determine the law's effect, were cautious about interpreting the October figures.

"This may well be a cause, at least a contributing cause of handgun violence, but I'd have to see the figures over a period of five or six months," said Charles Salerno, executive secretary of the statewide Fraternal Order of Police.

"I don't know that one month is really a valid testing period to say that {the law and handgun violence} are related," he said.

Marion Hammer, executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, said she thought the law had "absolutely nothing" to do with any change in homicide patterns. Her group had backed the measure.

"It has more to do with the fact that we have a drug problem, and especially a problem with crack cocaine," she told The Florida Times-Union and Jacksonville Journal.

Handguns were used in about 38 percent of the killings committed in Florida in 1983-86, although the frequency was substantially higher during the early 1980s, according to state figures.

Since Oct. 1, about 12,000 permits for concealed weapons have been issued by the Department of State's licensing division, according to David Register, chief of the division. These permit holders include the approximately 10,000 people statewide who held county-issued licenses and had to apply for the new state permits.