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MS-13 Use of Guns in Guatemala Shows Modus Operandi

Weapons seized from a street gang in Guatemala Weapons seized from a street gang in Guatemala

Forensic analysis has revealed that the MS-13 gang in Guatemala used 32 guns to allegedly commit 238 murders, offering insight into the gang's modus operandi and highlighting some of the difficulties of tackling organized crime with gun control.

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Members of Guatemala's National Institute of Forensic Sciences (Inacif) used the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (Ibis) to identify 1,133 guns that had been used in multiple crimes, reported Prensa Libre.

Of those weapons, prosecutors linked 32 to murders they believe were committed by the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) due to the style of execution and the relationship of the MS-13 to the victims -- who prosecutors say were all members of rival gangs, prison guards, or victims of robbery or extortion.

Prosecutors will use the weapons as evidence in the case they are preparing against eight MS-13 leaders, who they accuse of ordering the hits.

According to Inacif, pistols were by far the most common weapon used to commit crime and 85 percent of those pistols were stolen from the National Police and law enforcement agents.

InSight Crime Analysis

In Guatemala, the street gangs known as Maras -- principally the MS-13 and their Barrio 18 rivals -- operate in small cells known as "clicas" (cliques), which have between 10 - 50 gang members. As the forensic analysis suggests, instead of all members of a clique being armed, the group will have a small number of weapons, which are stored in a secret place where only members can access them and use as needed. In some cases there could be as few as one "murder" weapon used by an entire clique.

There are over one million unregistered guns in Guatemala. The fact that so few of them are used in organized crime shows how difficult it will be to limit the activities of street gangs through gun regulation. What's more, many of these weapons were stolen -- or possibly bought, as happens elsewhere in the region -- from the security forces, illustrating the challenge of controlling the gangs' access to weapons.

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