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.

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 Rush 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 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.

"There are members of the legislature who in recent years have talked about the funding of terrorist groups," state Sen. Dwight Bullard told the Miami Herald. "The idea that we're giving incentives to [assault weapons manufacturers] is problematic. It's hypocritical."

Corbato, though, represents another side of Florida's gun industry: a mom-and-pop operation where the tax cuts haven't meant much and the hubbub has only added unwanted politics to a job he sees as a personal passion. "There is nothing negative about what I do," he says. "It won't bring me bad karma."

Gun manufacturing isn't new to the Sunshine State. Large firms began moving in during the 1980s — and controversy soon followed. One company called Interdynamic opened in Miami in 1981 with the soon-to-be infamous Intratec TEC-9, a handgun that could blast 300 rounds a minute. Brazilian firearms builder Forjas Taurus opened its American subsidiary, Taurus USA, in the Magic City in 1984, and in 1993, Century International Arms established its beachhead in Delray Beach.

But the industry changed dramatically in 1994, thanks to the Brady Bill, a piece of legislation that sought to ban assault rifles like the AK-47, the AR-15, and 15 other high-powered weapons. The locally made TEC-9, one of the weapons banned from new production under the bill, soon became one of the highest-profile weapons outlawed when one of the shooters in the Columbine High School massacre used the gun.

The prohibition failed spectacularly thanks to mortar-size loopholes. Manufacturers flooded the market with grandfathered-in weapons. Others simply altered parts and sold firearms under different names.

In 2004, Congress let the ban die, leading to a new boom in AR-15 and AK-47 manufacturing. Under Rick Scott, Florida has done its best to capitalize on that market. In December 2011, Colt's Manufacturing Company received a $1.6 million tax credit in Osceola County, bringing 63 jobs. Palm Harbor-based Adams Arms, which manufactures equipment for AR-15-style rifles, got $200,000 to open in Pasco County, hiring 29 people. Kel Tec CNC, a Cocoa Beach company that made the handgun that George Zimmerman used to kill Trayvon Martin, received nearly $15,000 to train employees.

Around the time the 2004 ban expired, Corbato decided to enter the business for very different reasons. Corbato, the son of an architect who worked as a military contractor, was introduced to guns by his father.

"I shot my first competition when I was 8 years old," he says. "By the time I was a teenager, I had won some competitions statewide. I even got to try out for the 1980 Olympic team."

After graduating from Christopher Columbus High School in 1982, Corbato stopped competitive shooting to focus on amateur motorcycle racing. He quit racing after earning a biology degree from Biscayne College (now known as St. Thomas University) and spent the next 20 years in Jackson Memorial Hospital's trauma center doing CAT scans. "I got to see how precious life is," he says.

But Corbato never lost his entrepreneurial spirit and yearned for a career that would use his mechanical abilities. So he took a course in gun making from Colt and in 2002 left Jackson to form Project Guns with a friend from Boca Raton. Three years ago, Corbato started Nebulous Ordinance, building custom rifles and restoring historic pieces for museum exhibits or movie props. Corbato's custom AR-15s sell for $1,200 to $2,000.

"A lot of my clients work for Homeland Security, the FBI, and the military," he says.

Corbato's business is threatened by more than just a shortage of parts. On January 24, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill that would ban not only AR-15s and AK-47s but also 155 other firearms, including the vintage shotguns and semiautomatic submachine guns Corbato repairs.

Corbato believes his industry is wrongfully vilified. "I've thought a few times about pulling the plug so I don't have to stress," he says. "However, I believe I provide a real service."

The Buyers and Sellers

Eric Faden strolls through the Miami-Dade County Fair Expo Center with a white sheet of paper taped to his shirt. It reads in black marker: "AK-47s 4 SALE."

It's late afternoon on January 20, the last day of Victor Bean's Southern Classic Gun & Knife Show, and a dozen people have already approached the 20-year-old about the four rifles he's selling. Asking price: $1,200 each. He won't say how much he paid for them. "Buy low, sell high," he says with a smirk.

Unlike the dozens of sellers who have purchased a booth and are required by law to run background checks on buyers, Faden has it easy. He can meet his customers in the parking lot and complete the transaction without any restrictions. The skinny-jeans-clad Miami Dade College student with a hipster mustache is one of several sellers unloading outside the Fuchs Pavilion.

"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.

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. (That's despite recent protests by people such as former mayoral candidate Earl Rynerson, who have demanded the city stop hosting gun shows post-Sandy Hook.)

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.

Yamuni came to embrace gun culture after a turbulent childhood. In 1980, a year after he was born, he survived a car accident that forced doctors to amputate his right arm above the elbow. He grew up an only child in a single-parent household.

At Columbus High, Yamuni became a history buff. "The Constitution really resonates with me," he says. "I believe the people who wrote it are smarter than me, so I don't want anyone to trample it."

During his senior year, a classmate's uncle took them to Trail Glades. It was the first time he gripped the cold steel of a handgun. "It was a Heckler & Koch semiautomatic pistol," Yamuni remembers. "It was totally a whole new world."

He joined the National Rifle Association when he was 18, after he purchased his first firearm, a bolt-action hunting rifle. Upon graduating from high school, he enrolled at Miami Dade College and started his first business, a fish tank store. During the real estate boom between 2001 and 2007, Yamuni flipped houses with a friend. In 2008, a year after the market tanked, he opened a gun store in a Pinecrest shopping center.

"Initially I didn't like the AR-15," Yamuni says. "It is a hard rifle to manipulate... Over the past five years, it's really grown on me."

Unlike the AK-47, the AR-15 has a platform that can be switched up in a variety of ways, including firing different caliber bullets and changing the barrel from long to short. The rifle, far from a terrifying weapon of mass destruction, is a testament to American ingenuity, Yamuni argues.

Though Yamuni closed his shop in 2011, he boasts a personal armory of more than 15 rifles. He's become a decent sniper too. This past October 25, he placed third among 18 shooters in a short-barrel rifle competition at Markham Park. In July, he finished fifth in a field of 54.

Every Thursday evening, Yamuni meets with other enthusiasts at Trail Glades for a training session. The crowd is all-male, with the exception of a lone petite blonde. Many of the men are entrepreneurs like Yamuni, who now owns a firm that buys land and then flips it to oil companies. His buddy Suleiman Yousef owns a mixed martial arts gym. There's also a wedding and fashion photographer, a financial planner, a health-care executive, and a franchise restaurant owner named Ric Friedberg.

"I started getting into guns a year-and-a-half ago," Friedberg says. "I injured my left shoulder playing golf. I was sitting on my couch doing nothing one day when a buddy of mine took my ass to the range. Since my right arm was OK, I could shoot, he said."

The man who introduced Friedberg to firearms is a burly strawberry-blond 50-year-old financial planner named Bill, who didn't want to give his last name. Bill and Friedberg travel 33 miles from Weston to Trail Glades every Thursday. Born and raised in Hialeah in the '60s, Bill owned his first shotgun when he was 12. In addition to an AR-15 and multiple handguns, he is the proud owner of a MAC-11, a submachine gun that can strafe 950 rounds per minute and required a six-month background check to buy. Asked why he needs such a deadly device, Bill explains, "Because I can legally own it, and I had the funds to buy it."

It's easy to demonize Yamuni and his crew as gun nuts for embracing the kind of weapons that have led to so many massacres in America. But outside the range, he's no different from the average Miamian. He recently married his girlfriend of six years, who works for the South Beach office of a national modeling agency. He drinks at hipster watering holes such as Gramps and the Corner. He has a chocolate French bulldog named Biggie Smalls.

"I believe in gay marriage and I am pro-choice," Yamuni professes. "Everybody deserves equality, even gun owners. We should not be pigeonholed as all being crazy, right-wing gun nuts."

The Victims

Shortly before 9:45 p.m. on October 3, 2011, Ladarius Evans was leaning against the Plexiglas partition of a bus stop on Miami Gardens Drive when a Nissan sedan screeched to a halt in front of the 20-year-old. A dreadlocked man popped the passenger-side door and aimed an AK-47.

Evans leapt to his feet and bolted across three lanes, but an oncoming bus blocked his path. Full metal jacket rounds whizzed past. Two ripped through his upper left leg and exited his right leg. Bleeding, he staggered into the parking lot of the Miami Job Corps Center and collapsed.

"I was devastated," recalls his mother, Gwendolyn, describing the phone call that her son had been shot. "I screamed and rushed over to the scene. By the time I got there, he had already been airlifted to Jackson."

Evans's story should sound familiar to anyone who has spent time in Miami's poor, traditionally black neighborhoods, where violence by assault rifles doesn't attract the same attention as Lanza's massacre but fells dozens of young residents a year.

In fact, Evans was just one of 27 people under the age of 21 shot with an AK-47 or similar rifle in Miami-Dade during the past 16 months. Eight of those victims died. During the same time, at least 34 adults were mowed down by rifles in Miami Gardens and unincorporated Northwest Miami-Dade. Fifteen of those victims didn't survive. In Miami's District 5, which includes Overtown, Liberty City, and Brownsville, six out of 20 people shot by assault weapons in 2012 died. There were no assault rifle attacks in the city's four other districts.

Those aren't statistics you'll hear often on the news, though, in part because local law enforcement agencies don't break down shootings by weapon type and in part because — like Evans — a majority of the victims are black with a criminal record. (New Times compiled these numbers through news clips and Miami-Dade Police Department releases.)

"On my block alone, there have been six shootings in the past year," says Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who lives in Liberty City. "One involved an assault weapon."

Spence-Jones, her husband, and their two little boys were on their way to a Sunday church service last year when they saw a car crash into a light post near the corner of NW 55th Street and Eighth Avenue. "It had been shot up 17 times," she says. "Two young men stumbled out of the car, bleeding everywhere. They died that day." The double homicide was never reported on the news.

Ladarius Evans was no exception to that tired mainstream media rule. His story represents both sides of the violent ties between poor black neighborhoods and assault rifle crimes.

Born on May 2, 1991, Evans grew up looking after his three younger brothers and a younger sister in Brownsville, a neighborhood adjacent to Liberty City. His mom says she tried to keep her kids out of trouble while holding down two jobs. "They had curfews and chores around the house," the 41-year-old Denny's hostess says. "I did my best to make sure they didn't get caught up in that street life."

As a boy, Evans played running back for the Overtown Rattlers Optimist Club and made the honor roll at Horace Mann Middle School. But during his senior year at Miami Edison High, he began to drift. On January 26, 2009, he was arrested for stealing a car and later served 30 days in jail. That July, he was convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Four months later, a felony grand theft bust followed. He pleaded guilty and served a 60-day stint.

Then, on December 17, 2010, Evans and three friends were driving around the parking lot of the Falls shopping center in Palmetto Bay when Miami-Dade police officers approached. Evans tried to run away, and later admitted he "got nervous and hid his firearm in a big condom box in the back seat," according to a police report. Officers recovered a silver-and-black revolver and charged him with illegally carrying a concealed firearm. Prosecutors didn't pursue the charges.

In early 2011, his mom convinced him to move with her out of Brownsville and into a three-bedroom house in a quiet residential area of Miami Gardens. The change of scenery helped.

"In Liberty City, there was just too much going on," she says. "There was a shooting every day."

The night he was shot, Evans had walked to the bus stop to wait for his girlfriend, who was on her way home from work. His assailant caught him completely by surprise.

Miraculously, Evans survived. The bullets didn't hit an artery. After four days, he was released from Jackson. While he was recuperating, he made a startling revelation. Hours before he was shot, his assailant confronted him outside a nearby convenience store and flashed the AK-47. Evans also told his mom that his brother Keonte had an ongoing fight with the shooter's friends.

She relayed the information to Miami Gardens Det. Joseph Zellner, but police couldn't track down Evans's attacker without his name. The break came November 4, 2011, when Evans read a front-page story in the Miami Times about a 20-year-old who had been charged in a shooting at Bunche Park. Evans recognized the shooter. When he met with Zellner, he held up a copy and said, "This is the guy who shot me."

In addition to the four attempted murder charges for the Bunche Park shooting, Tyrone Vincent Bivins was also charged with the attempted murder of Evans. It's not clear where Bivins got his rifle, but because he is a convicted felon, he couldn't have purchased it legally.

Like thousands of other criminals, he more than likely circumvented Florida's lax gun laws. Many use straw buyers. "They have their girlfriends who don't have criminal records going to the gun shows and pawn shops," Spence-Jones says.

A veteran Miami homicide detective, who asked not to be identified because he's not authorized to comment on the story, confirmed Spence-Jones's claim.

"Any young lady who is at least 18 can walk into a gun show and buy whatever AR-15 or AK-47 her boyfriend wants," he says. "Criminals are also getting rifles by committing burglaries. That is the MO for a lot of the gangs in the city."

Last November, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a report declaring that 1.4 million firearms were stolen in burglaries between 2005 and 2010. At least 80 percent of those weapons have not been recovered.

While Bivins sat in county lockup, Evans recovered from his leg wounds. But he couldn't escape his fate.

On November 12, seven months after his 21st birthday, Evans, his 18-year-old brother Quavon, and their 18-year-old friend Torrey Amica were driving on NW 43rd Street near 11th Avenue just before midnight. A gray sedan pulled up next to them, and without warning, someone inside sprayed all three young men with a high-powered rifle.

Quavon and Torrey were transported to Jackson, but they did not sustain any life-threatening injuries. Evans was pronounced dead at the scene.

"To know that someone will pull a gun and shoot somebody just for looking at them funny is horrible," his mom says. "Even though we were around it every day, I never thought gun violence would destroy my family."

The Big Picture

On the one-month anniversary of the Newtown tragedy, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado broke ranks with the Republican Party to join Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Flanked by Carol Gardner, whose son was killed with an AK-47 in Liberty City last April, Regalado stood on the front steps of Miami City Hall to announce a new campaign against gun violence.

"I believe that it is important that we send this message," Regalado said.

The mayor's move is just one of dozens at the local, state, and federal levels seeking to curb Florida's lucrative, fascinating, and deadly love affair with firearms. But despite rising public support — 51 percent polled by CNN last month favor tighter controls — and a big push from President Obama, it looks increasingly probable that the status quo will remain.

The same day Feinstein presented her new assault weapons ban bill, CBS News reported she doesn't have the 60 votes from her colleagues to get it passed in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Even Democratic senators who crafted the 1994 ban, including Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Max Baucus of Montana, won't get behind her. In the GOP-dominated House, passage is even less likely.

There is a push on the state level in Florida to change gun laws, including a bill sponsored by Tallahassee Democratic Rep. Alan B. Williams to repeal Florida's Stand Your Ground law. But Florida's capitol remains dominated by the GOP, which is unlikely to back any reforms.

"Of course I support the ban, but the NRA is so powerful I don't believe it will pass," Spence-Jones says of the federal proposal, which won the support of the Miami City Commission in a recent resolution.

Local leaders have taken a few substantive steps since Sandy Hook. The Miami Police Department operates one of the nation's most aggressive gun buyback programs, in which the city exchanges Miami Heat tickets and supermarket vouchers for firearms. During two gun buybacks conducted in January, the city collected 209 guns, including two AK-47s and a Ruger Mini-14 sniper rifle.

And surprisingly, even many gun advocates — such as Corbato and Yousef — agree that some gun control measures make sense.

"I do believe we should have universal background checks," Corbato says. "You should not be able to meet a buyer in a Denny's parking lot and sell him a gun without knowing who he is. I think a large percentage of gun crimes are a result of sales like that."

Adds Yousef: "The national registry and universal background checks don't bother me, but everything else does."

Gwendolyn Evans, though, is not so sure tighter controls on firearms will prevent guns from falling into the hands of thugs. "Knowing the streets, I guarantee criminals will find a way around it," she says.

No gun ban or universal background check will bring justice for her slain son. Miami police still don't have any leads on who killed Ladarius. Bivins is still awaiting trial for the first attempt on his life.

"Every day, I feel something is missing in my life," Gwendolyn says. "My family has been broken and torn apart."

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.