Guns online: No permit needed
Rush-hour traffic rattles down NE Second Avenue as Eduardo pulls his Dodge Intrepid into a weedy lot next to the railroad tracks. He eyes the commuters speeding past and then pops the trunk.
"There she is," he says, opening a cardboard box.
Inside is a matte black assault rifle — a brand-new Colt M16 .22LR. Three ammo clips are scattered around a milk crate full of empty oil cans and a jumbo bottle of Hawaiian Punch.
"Check out this laser sight!" enthuses Eduardo, a short, paunchy Dominican wearing designer red-and-black shades. He starts to hoist out the rifle — tracing a Predator-style red dot around the trunk — but then thinks twice as a minivan whizzes by.
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"Better not scare anyone today," he says.
This parking-lot arms deal seems like the kind of Scarface-style swap that lands everyone involved in prison. But the truth is that roadside assault-rifle sales are perfectly legal in Florida. Buy a gun from the shop, and you're subject to a background check; buy it from a dude you met that morning on the Internet, and there's no red tape. Six hundred dollars later, you could walk away from Eduardo's car with an assault rifle.
Eduardo Inirio is just one of the hundreds of South Floridians who use sites such as floridaguntrader.com as a Craigslist for the bandolier set, buying and selling every conceivable armament, from antique Israeli sniper rifles to semiautomatic TEC-9s, from Romanian AK-47s to classic Smith & Wesson handguns.
With some of the most liberal gun laws in the States — plus a batch of new, gun-friendly statutes awaiting Gov. Rick Scott's signature in Tallahassee — experts expect Florida's online gun-running Wild West to grow.
That's great news for enthusiasts such as Eduardo. "You meet all kinds of great people on there," he says.
He's right. Take Mike, a boat salesman in Pompano Beach. (Like many of the sellers we called, he later asked that his real name not be used.)
He has taken to the Web to sell a Lewis Machine & Tool 5.56mm, a jagged-edged assault rifle favored by elite special forces and SWAT teams. With its camo pattern, bipod base, and holographic sights, it would look right at home in a dusty Libyan trench or on a dark Kabul rooftop.
"This thing is superfrickin' badasssss," Mike says. "It literally comes with instructions on how to destroy it if you're captured by the enemy. And you can't remove it from the country without the express consent of the secretary of state."
Mike says he won the gun at a raffle at his local gun shop, so he'll turn a tidy profit if he can find someone to pony up $2,200 to take it off his hands. "I'm a little in over my head with this one, honestly," he says. "Besides, I got AKs at home for when the shit hits the fan."
On Florida Gun Trader, a varied subculture of collectors, hunters, anti-government types, and law enforcement personnel mingle and haggle over prices.
There are guys like Jim, a Gulf Coast resident looking to unload a Yugoslavian AK-47 for $500. He plans to upgrade to a newer AR-15 — not that you should sneeze at the communist-era rifle. "Put this one up against those Romanian AKs and you'll see the difference," he says, sneering out the word Romanian. "The finish isn't perfect, but the Yugos made a great weapon."
Click the next ad and you might find "Tom," a well-to-do property manager who lives in a luxury condo on Biscayne Bay. The walls of his place are lined with wooden wine racks, but only about a third of the slots are full of Merlots and Malbecs; the rest are bulging with ammo clips.
"I feel that if you put your money into a well-made item, it's going to keep its value," he says, pulling out a Stoner SR-25, a sniper rifle used by the U.S. military and Israeli special forces. "Some people put their money into stocks and bonds. I like guns."
There's plenty of history on the site too.
Doug, a husky-voiced collector from South Dade, is looking to sell a Sino-Soviet SKS: a simple-looking, wooden-stock rifle with a heck of a backstory.
The gun's lineage traces all the way to the days before Mao Zedong's split with his Red Army neighbors, when Russian engineers traveled to Beijing to teach gunsmiths how to make a modern-era rifle. "Like everything else, the Chinese ran with it," Doug says. They cranked out thousands that later found their way into the Vietnam War.
"This particular gun was a battlefield pick-up in Vietnam," he says. "You smell the strap, it still smells like sweat. Now, there's no way to say for sure, but that's Vietcong sweat right there."
Not enticing enough for you? "Ladies absolutely love shooting this gun," Doug adds.
Sites such as Florida Gun Trader also let cash-strapped gun lovers set up trades. A West Palm woman named Crystal offers a Chevy Blazer for a "Sig, Glock, Benelli, [or] Remington."
Larry McGuire, a fireman and part-time fisherman in Bradenton, placed an ad last week offering to trade charter trips on his boat for "ARs, AKs, or pistols." He hasn't had any bites just yet. "I'm not sure anyone will actually trade a gun for a fishing trip, but hell, it's worth a shot," he says.
There are no firm stats on the number of guns sold annually through sites such as Florida Gun Trader, because no registration is required and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives doesn't track them. Some critics suggest that tighter reins be kept on the trade of such high-powered arms. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, for one, last month signed on to a national campaign advocating stricter background checks on gun sales.
But David Bradford, the site's Austin, Texas-based owner, says Florida Gun Trader and similar sites are part of a long tradition of advertising for firearms. The site, which launched in 2007, has 33,000 visitors a month and has seen membership grow 13 percent monthly this year.
"Firearms have been a part of classified ads since the first ones were printed back in 15th-century England," Bradford says via email.
As for Florida Gun Trader users, they look out for themselves. Like most sellers on the site, McGuire says he requires buyers to fill out a "bill of sale" and to have a Florida driver's license. Many advertisers also ask to see a valid concealed weapons permit.
"Everyone is straight-up on there," he says. "There's a few conspiracy nuts who think the government is tracking us through the site, and a few scammers too, but it's mostly just guys who love guns."
Guys such as Eduardo, back in the parking lot. He works for the City of Miami Beach ("So obviously I can't be out here doing anything that's not legal," he says.) He grew up in a military family in Santo Domingo, he says, and spent some time in the Dominican army before coming to Miami. Guns are a way of life for him. "Just think of what I can get when I sell this one," he says excitedly, folding the cardboard box flaps over the M16 in his car's trunk. "There's some incredible guns out there that I've never even tried."
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