Homemade Guns Point to Peru’s Gang Struggles

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Police in Peru’s capital seized a cache of guns apparently made out of iron pipes by local street gangs, illustrative of how the intense, highly localized conflict between neighborhood gangs has pushed even the most low-level groups to arm themselves. 

Lima police reported seizing the nine homemade pistols — iron pipes crudely welded together into ‘T’ shapes — after breaking up a gang fight in the northern district of Comas. A youth fleeing the scene dropped a backpack containing the handmade weapons and a box of .38 calibre bullets. Police said that one of the crude weapons could be made for around 30 soles (about $11), and could be bought on the black market for between 2 to 3 soles (about 77 cents to $1.15), reports Peru 21

As InSight Crime has reported, Peru’s government has said there are a total of 13,000 gang members inside the country, compared to an estimated 14,000 gang members in Guatemala and 10,500 in El Salvador, both of which have much smaller populations than Peru. According to a report by Infosur, more than 12,000 of these estimated gang members are based in Lima and the nearby port city Callao. The approximate 430 gangs in the region are also known to arm themselves with machetes, whips, stones, and metal, the report states. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The apparently primitive state of the weaponry used by some of Lima’s gangs is a symptom of their essentially petty nature. While there are homegrown groups in Peru’s rural jungles involved in organized criminal activities like the transnational trafficking of drugs, urban gangs have not yet established any significant connections to organized crime. Such links allow gangs to access bigger profits and better weaponry.

In contrast, ties between elements of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and organized crime has allowed the group to significantly expand their arsenal if not their criminal purview. And while Peruvian gangs are capable of great violence in Lima — some of it related to the fight over extortion — so far there is little evidence that they have ties to international drug trafficking networks. 

The Lima-based gangs are not the only ones scrappy enough to resort to DIY weaponry. A 2010 video report by Colombian TV network Caracol shows youth groups in an impoverished Bogota neighborhood making their own guns out of metal scraps and duct tape.

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