"We're having record crowds," organizer Victor Bean says. "We're getting approximately 800 to 1,000 people an hour."

Though hard data on actual gun sales is scarce, it's clear Florida has been a seller's market since Newtown. One measure is the number of background check requests received by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), and those numbers have doubled in the past three months. From January 1 through 29, the FDLE performed 108,082 checks, compared to 55,220 in 2012 and 50,387 in 2011. In December alone, there were 131,103 checks — the highest ever in a single month. Close to 800,000 people requested checks to buy guns last year. That's 200,000 more requests than in 2011.

What's more, the state department of licensing and agriculture issued and renewed 97,871 concealed weapons permits, bringing the total number to 2.3 million people since 1987. There are 233,580 concealed weapons permit holders in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.

Prosecutors say Tyrone Bivins shot five people, including an 11-year-old boy, with an AK-47.
Courtesy Miami-Dade Corrections
Prosecutors say Tyrone Bivins shot five people, including an 11-year-old boy, with an AK-47.

Anecdotally, sellers such as Dave Johnson of Johnson's Firearms in Wynwood say they can't even restock inventory. "The AR-15 is the number-one-selling firearm," he says. "Ever since Obama and Feinstein began talking about a new ban, the price of the AR has jumped 100 percent."

There's little question why people like Johnson and Faden have jumped at the opportunity: Capitalism, baby!

"Due to the backlash of the mass killing in Connecticut and all the gun legislation, people are afraid they won't be able to get the guns they'd like to purchase," Bean says.

It was a similar scene the previous week at the Suncoast Fort Lauderdale Gun Show inside the War Memorial Auditorium, where the line to get in stretched into the parking lot. The gun show has stoked a culture war in Broward, where one former mayoral candidate has pressured city officials to stop hosting the show on city property. Earl Rynerson says he saw vendors hawking Nazi paraphernalia and T-shirts with images of Obama in cross hairs alongside the weapons. "In a progressive tourist destination like Fort Lauderdale, this shouldn't be happening," Rynerson said last month.

Standard AR-15 models retailed for $900 to $1,000 last year, Johnson says. Today they cost between $2,000 and $4,000. That price-gouging extends to gun accessories and ammo too. High-capacity magazines that hold up to 30 bullets that sold for $30 to $40 now fetch between $300 and $400 on eBay. "A box of 420 rounds of .556-caliber bullets used to be $200," Johnson says. "Now it's $800."

Why are the buyers so rabid? Just ask Manny Vasquez, a 44-year-old Hialeah resident who purchased his first AR-15 two years after the first ban expired. He visited Bean's gun show to pick up a slimmer, more modern version known as the ACR, made by Bushmaster Firearms — the company that made Lanza's primary weapon. Vasquez paid $3,100 for a rifle that sold for a third of that cost six months ago.

Vasquez, who works at a Coral Gables software firm, decided to get a new gun after watching Obama's January news conference supporting an assault weapons ban.

"I don't feel I should be held responsible for the actions of a mentally ill person," Vasquez says. "I have the right to defend myself against the government or anyone else."

Another buyer, who wanted to be identified only by his first name, Joshua, put down 18 Benjamin Franklins on a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle that retailed for $950 pre-Newtown. An impish 24-year-old Miami Shores native with floppy brown hair, Joshua had been wavering for six months.

"I did my research," he says. "An AR-style rifle is a better defensive firearm than a 12-gauge shotgun. It is a lot easier to train with an AR too. Once I heard about the ban, I didn't want to wait anymore."

The Enthusiasts

As the sun sets over Trail Glades Sport Shooting Range on January 17, black smoke and the acrid odor of spent gunpowder fills the air. The crack of gunfire echoes throughout the park, and Sean Yamuni calmly raises the scope of his AR-15 to his left eye. He fires off ten rounds. Not one misses the square target 25 yards away. His precision is all the more remarkable considering he has no right arm to steady the rifle.

A South Miami resident with a scruffy goatee, Yamuni practices at least twice a week. "I have been doing it at that pace consistently for ten years," he says. "Shooting is a perishable skill if you don't practice."

Every Thursday, Yamuni is surrounded by other gun enthusiasts from all walks of life and across the political spectrum at this swampy, 650-acre range 20 miles west of downtown Miami. They're all united by a passion for the Second Amendment and a fiery attachment to shooting. For Yamuni and his ilk, firing pistols and high-powered rifles is no different from souping up a hot rod or casting a deep-sea line for marlin. Semiautomatic rifles are fun to shoot, period.

"It is an American pastime," he says. "It is a skill you can hone and be good at if you take the time to practice."

Yamuni and the predominantly male shooters who practice at Trail Glades are part of a thriving subculture of recreational gunslingers who compete in statewide contests hosted by more than 40 gun and rifle clubs. In Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach, at least seven clubs hold competitions every weekend, primarily at Markham Park in Sunrise. The largest club, the Tropical Sport Shooting Association, averages 200 members, says its president, Roger Zimmerman. Another group, the Sawgrass Rifle Club, has 55 members who shoot AR-15s, says president John Wiles.

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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.