Authorities display weapons seized in Cúcuta

Police investigations into two gun rental outlets in a Colombian border city highlight how rented firearms benefit criminal groups in the nation.

In February 2016, police seized weapons and munitions from two alleged gun rental outlets in Cúcuta, Colombia, a city known as a stronghold for criminal groups and contraband trafficking.

According to Cúcuta Metropolitan Police (Policía Metropolitana de Cúcuta) Chief Jaime Barrera, a revolver could be rented for 100,000 Colombian pesos (about $30) at the outlets, reports La Opinion.

In the first rental locale, police found three revolvers, various munitions, and drug packaging supplies. According to the police, the location was used by a criminal group that stole cars and robbed people in Cúcuta.

The seized weapons will undergo a ballistic analysis to determine if they were used in recent homicides in the city.

At the second rental operation, police seized nine revolvers, three pistols, and a rifle, along with munitions.

This rental locale was used by the criminal bands (BACRIM) Clan Úsuga or the Urabeños and the Rastrojos, in addition to the guerrilla groups the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional - ELN) and the Popular Liberation Army (Ejercito Popular de Liberacion – EPL), reported La Opinion.

According to authorities, this rental center was also used as a stop-off point for weapons that the Rastrojos would later smuggle to another city in Norte de Santander department.

InSight Crime Analysis

The use of gun rentals by criminal groups is relatively common in Colombia, where there are a reported 2.5 million illegal firearms in circulation.

In 2015, gun rentals in Baranquilla allegedly cost upwards of 100,000 Colombian pesos ($30) a day. In Bogota in 2015, gun rentals were reportedly more expensive, at 300,000-500,000 Colombian pesos ($90 - $150) daily.

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Rental guns are used for home and business robberies, and for riskier crimes like bank robberies and murders for hire. According to Semana, this is a particularly hard phenomenon for police to track because rental operations generally have relatively small quantities of weapons that are easy to hide. Additionally, linking the weapons to a crime is challenging because the same weapon could be used by multiple people over a short span of time. 

The use of rented firearms to commit crimes has also been reported in other countries in the region, including Mexico, but has not been so commonly reported in the Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala), where homicide rates are some of the highest in the world. 

It remains to be seen if Colombia's new efforts to ban the carrying of firearms in 2016 will reduce the profitability and use of rental weapons.