ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We're going to take a very personal look now at gun violence. This is a story about three generations of a single Miami family, part of a series from member station WLRN called Young Survivors about the trauma that comes from surviving shootings. Reporter Rowan Moore Gerety brings us the story of a grandfather, a mother and a young man who grew up surrounded by gunfire and the devastation in its wake.
ROWAN MOORE GERETY, BYLINE: Have you ever been shot at?
JOHN BROUGHTON: Yeah (laughter).
GERETY: That’s John Broughton on the phone from Jacksonville.
And have you yourself ever shot at someone?
BROUGHTON: One time. One time. But I would not shoot nobody for no reason. But it was something going on.
GERETY: And that's all you'd like to say about that?
BROUGHTON: Yeah (laughter).
GERETY: This is part of what John's mother, Carmen Gonzalez, says she was trying to avoid when they moved away from Miami when John was 11. The family's roots are in Liberty City, a neighborhood that's experienced high rates of gun violence for decades.
CARMEN GONZALEZ: I've been gone for nine years. I moved back there for seven months and was like no, I can't. I can't. I'd left for the evening, come back home, it's bullet holes in my walls. And my son is in the house asleep.
BROUGHTON: Growing up, you're going to see stuff you don't want to see. You'll see a man beating up his wife or somebody literally getting shot right in front of you. You're going - what you supposed to do?
GERETY: John's 20 years old now. He goes back and forth between being fascinated with guns and mistrusting anybody carrying one. When he was 2, his grandmother was killed when gunmen opened fire outside a liquor store.
LUIS GONZALEZ: They were close 'cause they'd watch TV together.
GERETY: That's John's grandfather, Luis Gonzales.
L. GONZALEZ: We called her Neesie (ph). He didn't know how to say Neesie. He'd say Neechie (ph), Neechie. He'd ask for Neechie and look where she would sit. She'd sit there with him on her lap with his bottle in his mouth watching TV. And now there was no Neechie.
GERETY: John's mother, Carmen, was just 17 at the time. And his grandfather says the experience changed her profoundly. When they went to the hospital to identify the body...
L. GONZALEZ: The medical people pulled the sheet back to show her face. Carmen ripped the entire sheets off and threw them on the floor and said yeah, that's her, and walked away cold. She just turned so cold and bitter from that point on.
GERETY: In spite of recent upticks in a handful of U.S. cities, violent crime has declined dramatically across the country over the past 25 years. But the impacts of gun violence aren't evenly distributed. Where you live, who you come across and who you're related to can all contribute to a kind of network effect. For John, his mother says murders and gunshot injuries were part of the backdrop of his childhood.
C. GONZALEZ: He became extremely cold, trouble in school. And he had a nonchalant I-don't-care attitude about everything. And this was from like 7 years old. The only thing on his brain was who killed my grandmother, and how can I find them? 'Cause I want to kill them.
GERETY: John has a tattoo on his neck drawn from the Bible. It says no weapon formed against me shall prosper, alongside a drawing of an AK-47. John says that's the weapon his uncle Rob used to take his own life on his living room couch, and the one that killed his half-brother Jarvis.
John's grandfather says the family is riddled with bullets. This past Sunday, he says, another relative - John's uncle - was shot and killed in Central Florida. And he says that as John was growing up, he saw his grandson consumed by the violence that surrounded him.
L. GONZALEZ: As far as following things that, you know, you need to get done, you need to graduate school so you can earn a respectable living, none of that comes into play. But he knows who got shot, where they got shot. They know - he knows all those things, but he doesn't know things that would make a positive impact in his life.
GERETY: John doesn't deny this. With everything going on in the neighborhood, he says, how could a kid be expected to focus on school?
BROUGHTON: If you in this environment, you going to learn this environment. Like, you can't throw me in China and expect me not to want to learn Chinese.
GERETY: In spite of all the pain gunfire has caused him over the years, John says, guns have always been, well, alluring.
BROUGHTON: I ain't going to lie, it just is - when you pull that trigger, it's just so - I don't know. You just get - you got a feeling, like, you just want to do it. I don't know. It's like a stress reliever.
GERETY: When he came back to Miami as a teenager, John and his friends would drive out to lakes near the Everglades and shoot at trees or into the water. He's been infatuated with guns from the moment he fired one.
BROUGHTON: I first fired a gun when I was, I think, 11 on Fourth of July. It was a sawed-off shotgun.
GERETY: Set the scene for me for me. What, I mean, what's going on that an 11-year-old's getting a sawed-off shotgun?
BROUGHTON: Fourth of July (laughter).
GERETY: Recently, something changed for John. He says losing his half-brother has made him a lot more wary of guns in general.
BROUGHTON: Now you can't have no gun around me 'cause now I don't trust no - I really don't trust nobody.
GERETY: But he still plans to buy a gun when he turns 21. John's Facebook timeline shows some of this paradox. In one photo, he's visiting his grandmother's grave. In another, mourning his dead uncle. And in a third, grinning ear-to-ear while he holds a pump-action shotgun. John's grandfather called him the second he saw the post.
L. GONZALEZ: What is this [expletive]? Grandaddy, it ain't nothing. What do you mean it ain't nothing? You're pointing a gun at the [expletive] camera. When I tell people I hate guns, I hate guns.
GERETY: John says that episode, posting a photo of himself with a gun, that falls into the category of things he'll never do again. Recently, he spent a month in jail after getting drunk and stealing a friend's cellphone. The charges were dropped but John says the experience was a wake-up call.
BROUGHTON: You're a product of your environment. I ain't trying to be a product of this environment. I don't want to be the reason that something happens to somebody else.
GERETY: John's in Jacksonville now, 300 miles away. He's working at a warehouse driving a forklift. But it's hard to leave the world you grew up in. He knows spending time in Liberty City might not go well for him, but John says Miami is a habit that's hard to kick. For NPR News, I'm Rowan Moore Gerety in Miami.
(SOUNDBITE OF MNDSGN'S "ABEJA")
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