“Get the gun,’’ Yasmin Davis shouted to her 14-year-old son, Jack, who had spied a young man trying to steal the Wave runner behind their waterfront home in Miami Shores.
The shotgun blast hit Reynaldo Munoz in the back of the head, propelling him into the water, where police found his body floating by the dock.
Davis, an architect, called 911, and initially claimed that she’d killed the intruder because he had threatened them with a gun. But her story, police said, was inconsistent. It wasn’t Davis who pulled the trigger as she claimed, but her son. And Munoz was not armed.
Shootings like this one are common in Florida, where statistics show more citizens are arming themselves and using firearms to kill more than ever before.
While the number of murders overall in the state has stayed relatively flat, the percentage of those committed with a firearm has risen, reflecting a significant increase in gun sales and concealed-weapon permits.
“Everybody has a gun in this neighborhood,’’ said one resident of the wealthy enclave following the 2011 shooting. “It’s sad, but once you’ve been threatened you don’t take any chances.’’
In 2000, there were 499 gun murders in the state, according to data from Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Gun murders have since climbed 38 percent — with 691 murders committed with guns in 2011.
Only partial numbers are available for 2012, but from January to June, there were 479 murders in Florida — 358 of them committed with a gun.
Guns are now the weapons of choice in 75 percent of all homicides in Florida. That’s up from 56 percent in 2000.
Those statistics don’t even count gun deaths that are the result of self-defense or less clear-cut cases, such as the Miami Shores shooting, which is still being investigated and has not resulted in charges.
The rise in gun murders comes at a time when gun control is at the forefront of national debate. Surveys show a majority of Americans favor tougher firearms regulations. Supporters say stricter background checks, which were defeated in the Senate last week, could lessen the number of gun killings.
In Florida, shootings have received greater attention since George Zimmerman cited the state’s “stand your ground” law in the February 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Those on both sides of the gun control debate say that killing emboldened gun owners to carry firearms.
There’s no clear answer as to why gun murders have increased, but one fact is hard to ignore: Floridians own more guns than they did a decade ago, when the gun murder rate was significantly lower.
Gary Kleck, a criminology professor at Florida State University and an expert on guns, said the number of people applying for background checks to buy firearms has increased significantly since 2004. Last year, the state processed about 800,000 background checks. And after the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn., Florida saw a run on gun sales. In the first three months of this year, the state processed 294,185 background checks, nearly as many as in all of 2004.
Most of those who apply for gun background checks in Florida — 98.5 percent in 2010 — are approved. That’s in part because of problems with record keeping. Florida lags behind other states in submitting records on mental illness to a federal database used in gun background checks, according to a report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.