Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Weapon of Choice: The AK-47's price, reliability garner fans on both sides of the law

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 |

By Ildefonso Ortiz
The Monitor

The AK-47 assault rifle has gained a bad reputation in recent years as the weapon of choice of the Mexican cartels.



But while law enforcement officials and weapons experts agree that the nearly 65-year-old Avtomat Kalashnikova is popular for its reliability, accuracy and price, those very traits are what make it so appealing to criminal organizations, Mexican officials say.

“It has a simple design that is easy to maintain, and it is easy to operate,” said Luis Morales, general manager at RDS, an upscale firearms store that specializes in tactical equipment. “The ammunition for it is very cheap, and it is easy to find magazines and other accessories for it.”

Mikhail Kalashnikov began designing the AK-47 model in 1945. It was finished in 1947 and put to work by the Russian army in 1949. The weapon quickly caught on with militaries worldwide, and it became a popular sporting rifle soon after.

Today, there are more than 100 million AK-47s out there, Morales said.

While an AK-47 retails in the $600 to $800 range, with some models reaching more than $1,000, some knock-offs can be found for about $430.

WEAPON OF CHOICE

A former Zeta, who left the drug cartel in 2006, told Valley Freedom Newspapers earlier this year that the AK-47 was one of his favorite weapons because of the minimal maintenance it requires. The AK-47 he described was a fully automatic rifle, meaning that multiple shots were fired each time he squeezed the trigger. A semi-automatic rifle, on the other hand, fires one shot each time the trigger is pulled.

Members of organized crime — including the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas — typically carry the AK-47, a Tamaulipas law enforcement official said.

Mexican authorities seized 40,469 pistols and 55,269 “long firearms” between Dec 1, 2006 — when President Felipe Calderón took office — and Dec. 23, 2010 — the most recent date for which figures were statistics, according to information released by the Mexican military. A former Mexican naval officer said he wouldn’t be surprised if more than half of those “long firearms” were AK-47s.



They certainly make the news often enough:

>> Last year, Tamaulipas police arrested three Zetas in Matamoros in connection with the shooting of two police officers. Also seized in the arrest were three AK-47s.

>> Last week, the Mexican military seized 24 of the Soviet-designed rifles hidden inside a cave in the town of Anzaldua, near Reynosa.

>> And after Brownsville native and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata was killed in February by Zetas in the northern Mexican state of San Luis Potosi, casings recovered from the scene revealed that the murder weapon was an AK-47.

GUN LAWS

Unlike the United States, Mexico largely restricts possession of firearms to members of law enforcement and the military. Civilians can purchase and own certain small-caliber pistols and sporting rifles, but the restrictions are lengthy.

In the Unites States, law-abiding citizens may purchase semiautomatic rifles — like AK-47s — if they meet certain criteria.

Those looking to purchase a rifle must be 18 or older, present certain documentation and pass a background check through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, Morales said. Those looking to purchase an automatic firearm must go through a strict, three-month process that includes a lengthy background check in addition to the regular background check done when purchasing a firearm, he said.

People with felonies or assault violations are not eligible to purchase a firearm, Morales said.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, which is tasked with enforcing firearm laws is familiar with AK-47s.Individuals who are not eligible to purchase a firearm will try to get one through a “straw purchase” by having eligible customers do the buying for them, agency spokeswoman Franceska Perot said.

While the agency didn’t have specific data singling out the weapon by model, the ATF lists the AK-47 as one of the weapons targeted by its “Project Gunrunner,” which sought to reduce cross-border arms trafficking, Perot said. The only other rifle listed in the project is the AR-15 assault rifle.

Although the AK-47 is associated with Mexican cartels, it’s also a reliable weapon for law-abiding citizens for use in hunting, target practice and home defense, Morales said.

Morales himself has had an AK-47 for more than 16 years, and it’s still in optimum condition.

“The caliber is great for hunting,” he said. “This is a weapon that you can put through anything and it will continue to fire.”

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21 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

Im from joliet illinois n ovahere there preaty cheap in price... i have a drako pistol ak n a regular long one... there fun to shoot but to go to war i rather have an AR 15 there more accurate when in fully auto... the ak 47 are not that accurate in fully auto..

Anonymous said...

10 55 I went to megasport in plainfield Il, to buy an ak and they didn't have any. They were having trouble getting them a guy said. I'm waiting and haven't gone back yet. But when I do it will b great.

Anonymous said...

Juarez is always the test ground. I wish they would turn all those confiscated weapons (40,469 pistols and 55,269 rifles) over to responsible citizens there and study the effects of arming the real Mexican citizens. Give them a little training and a little authority to use them to protect their neighborhood, wow. It would be interesting. Lol, I am sure someone on this site will say no because they are Mexican and only US citizens can use guns responsibly.

Anonymous said...

11:34 that would be the cheapest way to arm them.

Anonymous said...

Its all about the 7.62

Anonymous said...

I'm assuming the AK's are 7.62mm....nasty stuff

Anonymous said...

The price point is what makes the ak so popular in Mexico. 1 cheap ar vs 2 cheap ak's.

@10:55am
Full auto in not very accurate in any platform. Most operators and special ops guys mostly rely on semi auto. Full auto is nice when you need send a lot of lead down range and keep the enemy pinned down but in general it's a waste of ammo. It sure is fun though in states that can have class 3

@11:23am
Mega sports may have lied to you or they wiped out their inventory as to not stock them anymore. Last time I was in there they had tons of them about 4 months ago. They are somewhat paranoid and it wouldn't surprise me that they they longer want ak's in there log books. Their high prices that never went down from the election is what mostly keeps me away from that store.

Anonymous said...

@ September 13, 2011 10:55 AM I read and I watch a video of the an-94 abakan is a better version of the AK-47.

Anonymous said...

11:23 try going to rinks in lockport theres were i bought mine... also in morris at big r i jus went this weekend to purchase a handgun and they had a few aks..

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that its the AK is the favorite in Sinaloa.

Aleric said...

So the country that has very stringent laws that keep guns out of the hands of normal citizens cant control the criminals whoe ae better armed than the police. Makes perfect sense to me, after all if the citizens could defend themselves it would cut out the need for the police and army. /sarc

Anonymous said...

“It has a simple design that is easy to maintain, and it is easy to operate,” - thus, an ideal firearm for home defense by the law abiding Mexican people. But it won't happen - the one thing that scares the Mexican govt more than violent cartels, is a coup by armed, law abiding citizens.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what that Tamps law enforcement official was talking about because Zetas prefer the AR-15. The bullet produces a worse wounding profile because it tumbles instead of going through like the AK. The smaller bullet means Zeta convoys can carry a lot more ammo. The AR-15 platform is more reliable and the guns tend to be newer and better made than a lot of the cheaper and used AK they get.

The US chose the 5.56mm in Vietnam when bullet energy was not as important as the number of bullets a soldier could carry and fire in the dense jungles. And it made sense. In an urban shootout with sicarios of questionable shooting skills more bullets is a better thing.

The Zetas have an infinite amount of money so they can afford the better rifles.

"L"B said...

@ But it won't happen - the one thing that scares the Mexican govt more than violent cartels, is a coup by armed, law abiding citizens.
September 13, 2011 2:27 PM


AMEN YOU CAN CARVE THAT INTO STONE

i have no proof..but am convinced that the elites that comprise the Mexican gobierno. are kith and kin with the big time narcos...and not the guys who make the news..the guys who live above the clouds

Anonymous said...

.308 cetme,hk,ptr, used by bananna republics the world round!!

ajulio said...

The one thing that scares the mexican government more than violent cartels, is a coup of armed law abiding citizens.

I'm stealing that one from you Lito Brito. Good one.

The cartels love to ambush, especially in Juarez and the ak-47 is perfect for this. How can you escape twelve ak-47's shooting at you, all at one time? Impossible. That's what has made this drug war so dangerous, Is the ak-47, Russia's great invention of war.

I remember in Juarez a small convoy of sicarios ambushed a group of policias (about 6 of them who were also carrying weapons) and blasted them with ak-47's. Just turned them into swizz cheese in seconds. Then took off to never be seen again. It was too easy for them. I believe La Linea took responsibilty for this because of the federal policia's alliance with the CDS.

But now you put this gun in some uneducated teenager's hands and now you can multiply the dangerous consequences of this gun by a thousand.

The ak-47 was also the gun of choice for the vietcong during the vietnam war for the same reasons as the cartel's. It was cheap and extremely dangerous.

Anonymous said...

12 06 & 12 38 thanks guys. I thought it was weird becouse I had went earlier and they had a lot of ak's. I'll check out rinks.

Anonymous said...

AK is the perfect "Firearm" for the Mexican insurgency/cartels. You can drop it in the mud or pour sand in the breach and it will still fire and cycle shells. It's easy to duplicate and requires few precision machined parts. It's cheap, easy to acquire and can be operated with little or no training.

If Chapo can bring oceangoing freighters to Mexico's Pacific Coast with loads of precurser chemicals for Meth from China, India & Asia. You can bet there are numerous arms dealers taking up residence these days in Mexico's coastal resort cities willing to sell guns also. Don't mexicans endearingly refer to the AK as the "Goat Horn"?

The Mexican military uses the FN FAL, which is also a 7.62 round but it's a 51 mm length casing and not 39 mm like the AK. The AK is perfectly suited for the drive by "Spray & Pray" method of engagement. The longer casing of the 51 mm allows for more powder and hence higher bullet velocity and lends itself to more precision and distance shooting. FN makes a good rifle, but i would be curious to hear soldiers comments on its reliablity in an urban firefight vs. an AR.

The AR or M16 platform utilizing the 5.56 round is probably the best all around "firearm" for urban engagement. The military automatic version shoots in bursts of 3 rounds or can unload a 30 round magazine in about 5 seconds.

Something i find interesting. Spend much time viewing the photos on this site of carnage inflicted on those who chose to die by the sword. And it gets easy to recognize the difference in damage to flesh and body parts between the 5.56 and the 7.62 AK and FN. The 5.56 enters the flesh and leaves a wound that resembles little more than a pin prick with a slight trickle of blood. The 7.62 lops off whole limbs or chunks of body mass and leaves flesh mangled like a meat grinder, it splits skulls open with explosive force.

Someone brought up a good point in the comments above. Why doesn't the Mexican government allow the civilians to arm themselves? The gov certainly has proven repeatedly that they can't protect it's citizens or the general population. And it seems like everyone in mexico already has a gun except law abiding citizens. Canadian and American citizens are allowed to own long guns, why shouldn't mexicans ?

Anonymous said...

If half the AK 47's are automatic, they didn't come from the United States then. The U.S. is only allowed to have semi-auto. Those semi-auto weapons are coming from somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

@ 11:18 The mexican military does not use the FAL the use an assortment of various rifles including ones that are confiscated from cartels. The use mostly M16A4 supplied by the US. I have seen them also carrying UMP45 and Uzi SMG's The Mexican Government also buys arms from Israel and other countries. Most automatic weapons the cartels use do not come from the US.

Anonymous said...

The majority of the weapons confiscated the last two years are semi auto ar-15s. Whatever supply they had of fully auto ak-47 it seems like its running out.

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