Assault Rifles Are Big Business in Florida as Federal Ban Looms

As Suleiman Yousef fires a sleek black AR-15-style rifle, orange and blue muzzle bursts flash inside the Trail Glades Gun Range in West Miami-Dade. The rapid-fire rounds ping off a metal target 100 yards away. His thick arms hold steady against the explosive recoil.

Then Yousef, a 31-year-old South Miami self-defense trainer with a bald dome and bushy beard, hands me the heavy weapon. His friend Sean Yamuni, a 33-year-old one-armed marksman, shows me how to release the safety with my right thumb. "You want to rest your cheek against the stock," Yamuni instructs. "Look for the red dot in the scope."

My heart races as I awkwardly take aim and unleash 28 bullets, most burying themselves silently in the earthen berm behind the target. It's both exhilarating and terrifying.

Suleiman Yousef purchased his first AR-15-style rifle in 2006, two years after the federal assault rifle ban expired.
Giulio Sciorio
Suleiman Yousef purchased his first AR-15-style rifle in 2006, two years after the federal assault rifle ban expired.
Jorge Corbato has been making rifles in Miami for almost a decade.
Francisco Alvarado
Jorge Corbato has been making rifles in Miami for almost a decade.

Semiautomatic rifles like this Knight's Armament SR-15 have taken center stage in a reignited push for gun control in the wake of Adam Lanza's Newtown massacre, with politicians from Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado to President Barack Obama calling for new federal bans and millions of enthusiasts triggering a gun-buying mania so frenzied dealers can't keep up.

Florida is ground zero for the clash. For years, the National Rifle Association has used Tallahassee's compliant legislature as a test tube for gun-friendly laws. The Sunshine State was the first to pass Stand Your Ground, which has spread to 17 other states and earned national media attention after the Trayvon Martin killing, and the first to break a million concealed weapons permits. Thanks to generous tax breaks, gun manufacturers have flocked to Florida under Gov. Rick Scott.

There's also plenty of carnage wrought by Florida's gun obsession. In Miami-Dade, 80 percent of the 63 homicides in the past year have been gun-related. In Broward's major cities, 25 out of 37 homicides from the past 13 months involved a gun, by New Times' unofficial count. Mass shootings in black neighborhoods may not garner Lanza-like press, but they've become a regular part of life from Overtown to Miami Gardens, where 25-year-old Brandon Bryant was recently cut down by more than 50 rounds from a high-powered rifle at a Super Bowl party.

In the wake of Sandy Hook Elementary's stomach-churning horror, both the Republican and Democratic parties have gone hyperbolic, from NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer likening gun control proposals to discrimination, to President Obama tearfully invoking Newtown's child victims in his State of the Union last week. But Florida's relationship with guns goes much deeper than broadsides fired by right-to-bear-arms zealots and liberal loudmouths. Thousands of regular Miamians like Yousef and Yamuni own assault rifles. Hundreds of others like Bryant's family have been crushed by shootings. Scores of small businesses thrive by buying and selling guns.

To try to better understand our state's complicated love affair with the weapons Obama wants to ban and Limbaugh wants in every closet, I dove headfirst into Florida's gun culture — from a local manufacturer to the sellers, buyers, and die-hard enthusiasts to the everyday victims of violence in Miami's poorest neighborhoods.

Fact is, creating a Florida without guns — or even without assault rifles — is about as probable as enforcing a topless sunbathing ban in Miami Beach. Surprisingly, almost everyone I met agrees Florida and the nation need tighter controls, less scaremongering, and an end to mass shootings.

How to get there, of course, is as complex as the aluminum and steel mechanisms launching rounds from the SR-15 in my hands.

The Manufacturers

An overhead swivel lamp illuminates Jorge Corbato's workspace inside a cramped concrete warehouse off Bird Road near Tropical Park. In the early afternoon of February 1, the 48-year-old Cuban-American carefully uses a lathe to cut a 20-inch steel tube. A husky Miami native with short salt-and-pepper hair, Corbato wears a denim apron to catch metal shavings. After peering down the tube, he stops the machine, satisfied.

He carefully screws the barrel into an AR-15 receiver, the part of the rifle that includes the trigger, the magazine port, and the serial number. Over the next hour, he adds the barrel shroud, the firing pin, the pistol grip, and the stock.

It's the first AR-15 that Corbato has built in two weeks, but not for lack of business. In fact, semiautomatic rifles — and the more deadly assault rifles — are so in demand he's had trouble getting enough components for his shop. (AR-15s are technically not assault rifles because they can fire only one bullet with each pull of the trigger, but are often lumped in with the M-4, the military version, which can fire multiple rounds.)

"I can't produce every single part myself," he says. "Before Sandy Hook, I was making 25 AR-15 rifles a week. Everything I had built, I sold. Now when customers call me, I have to tell them to call back in a couple of weeks."

Corbato is one of dozens of small operators in Florida's booming gun-making industry, which has exploded recently. Over the past two years, the state legislature has rolled out the red carpet for firearms makers, bringing in a bonanza that conservatives have hailed as good job creation but liberals have denounced as a regressive move.

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Nice biased hit piece. While you mention percentages of homicides committed with guns locally, rather than compare that to national statistics to see if that's unusual (i.e., rather than act with some journalistic integrity) you instead simply imply, without presenting any evidence, that this is unusually high and is so due to Florida's gun laws. Oddly enough though, when one actually does the journalistically responsible thing and looks at national figures and those from other states (like Illinois, with some of the strictest gun laws, and highest gun crime rates), South Florida, if anything, has a LOWER ratio of gun deaths to total homicides.

And despite your blatant attempt to tie all this to so-called "assault weapons", you never mention the fact that virtually none of these deaths ever involve such firearms. However, just as everywhere else in the US, such firearms are used in fewer than 1/2 of 1% of homicides (and virtually never in suicides). In fact, the only specific study done in the state on the subject, carried out by the city of Miami, one of the most anti-gun city governments in the state, found that so-called "assault weapons" are the LEAST often used type of gun in any form of crime within the city, despite the fact that, as you point out, they are one of the most commonly owned.

But hey, what are facts and verifiable statistics compared to bigotry and unsupported innuendo, right?


Spence-Jones  said 2 words..   No Snitching! 

icculus17 topcommenter

jobs? sounds like a one-man operation


My question is, which of the proposed laws, will stop a sandy hook, or denver type attack?   (today). or even the AZ Gifford's attack?   

background checks make sense.  but limiting the number of bullets?  

would stiffer sentences have the same effect?  -felons caught with guns get 20-30 years.


Ruger Mini-14 sniper rifle.  - that is an oxymoron.  mini14's are not that accurate.