Gary Brill is a member of both the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Practical Shooting Association. He's been shooting for almost 30 years, taking part in local competitions, buying his own targets and even making his own bullets at home. You could say he is a firearms fanatic.
"The old saying, 'If you ask how many guns someone has, it’s between more than one and not enough.' So I have more than one and not enough," he says. "A lot of different types: handguns, pistols, semi-automatic, rifles, shotguns."
Brill makes time to practice once or twice a week, at shooting ranges near his home in Kendall.
“I compete against myself to see if I can shoot better,” he explains. “You’re nervous when you get up there to shoot, but after the first bullet all that nervousness goes out and you’re calm. It’s fun.”
Gun enthusiasts like Brill exist in significant numbers in and around South Florida. The area boasts four shooting clubs, and there’s no shortage of gun shops or shooting ranges, either.
More than 400 entities in South Florida have a federal firearms license, the only requirement to sell guns in the state. That includes stores and groups from Weston to Wynwood to West Palm Beach.
Rob Tillman is general manager at Gun World of South Florida, a retailer and shooting range located in a strip mall in Deerfield Beach.
“Your gun enthusiasts in Florida, you have everybody you can pretty much fit in a group,” Tillman says. “You have your hunters, you have your collectors, you have your people that use them, whether they’re security guards or cops or ex-military or whatever. But your biggest customer is the one worried about personal safety.
“A lot of people believe that firearms are registered to the owner, and they are not in the state of Florida -- though you would have to have a concealed weapons permit,” he says.
According to the state department of agriculture, guns are popular in the most-urbanized areas of Florida. One-quarter of the state-issued concealed carry licenses belong to South Florida residents.
Tillman says most customers use his facility to shoot for sport or professional purposes. But because their interest involves firearms, they are often regarded with skepticism.
“People think you’re some kind of crazy person, you’re some kind of lunatic,” he says. “Guns are a piece of metal. They don’t do anything you don’t want them to do. To call all gun owners bad because some people use them is crazy.”
For Erik Alexander, owning a gun is a family tradition. The Miami native began hunting around age 7 with his father, and recently started passing the hobby on to his 12-year-old daughter. He says it’s more than just the father-daughter time he’s grateful for.
“It’s really important for kids to understand the basics of firearm safety,” Alexander says. “If we, the parents, don’t teach them, they’re going to get taught somewhere else. And I’d rather be responsible for the way they are taught versus what they see on TV.”
Alexander thinks it’s lack of education on firearms that causes some to write off an interest in guns as lunacy.
“I think the public, in general, is getting the wrong message,” he says. “It’s not about the video games. It’s more about the camaraderie that comes with a hunting tradition, and also a shooting sport tradition. It’s part of our American heritage.”