EL PASO – Gunmen in four vehicles fired a barrage of more than 400 shots killing a Juárez police commander and wounding his bodyguard August 6, near an international bridge across the line from an El Paso school athletic field.
Four-hundred-twenty 7.62×36 millimeter casings from AK-47 automatic assault rifles littered the crime scene at Cuatro Siglos Boulevard near the International Bridge.
Commander Victor Nazario Moreno Ramirez had been the leader in a Delta tactical preventive team, a unit in charge of high-impact crime response and special operations. Later he was named commander of the downtown district, a district over run by drug dealers.
“Shooting a man 400 times, is a statement, said Manny Serrano, a 20-year police officer turned instructor for the Law Enforcement-Training Academy. They are saying that they have control and there is nothing you can do to stop them, Serrano said. “Some of the times when they use more then a sufficient number of bullets, it is because a deal went sour and they are getting their money back.” Although the settings may have been a little different in Ramirez’s case, there is no doubt that the commander’s death was a statement.
“… border drug violence takes on a psychological dimension that transcends the victims and is meant to speak to a mass audience,” says Dr. Howard Campbell, a UTEP anthropologist in his book Drug War Zone. Campbell, who has studied the border region’s problems draws parallels between the “theater of terror” used by Islamist groups and narco-killings. Campbell says that graffiti, music, and even videos on YouTube have been used to spread the drug-funded fear throughout México and the rest of the Latin world.
But as the “narco-theater” enters it’s fifth year, efficiency has become the new standard in drug killings.
“Yes, you can fire up to 400 rounds a minute on fully automatic, from one of these weapons (AK-47), however one weapon would probably not handle that many rounds.” Said Dan Lewis, a firearms instructor at El Paso Law Enforcement Training Academy with more than 20 years of firearms experience.
The AK-47 was designed during World War II by the Russian Mikhail Kalashnikov. The primary goal of the weapon’s design was to create a fully automatic rifle that could stand the beating of the rough Russian terrain. That meant the firearm still had to fire 600 rounds per minute after being dipped in water, mud or even frozen.
Kalashnikov succeeded. Lewis speculates that this is the cause of the weapons popularity. “It can take a lickin and still keep tickin.” Aside from their durability, the simplicity of the gun’s mechanism makes the models’ production cost very low. This has inspired over 14 illegal variations worldwide.
Illegal forms of the gun can sell for as low as $30 US dollars to $125. The World Bank estimates that 20% of all illegal firearms are of the AK-47 family. Kalashnikov lamented the use of his weapon by “terrorist and thugs” in the 2006 United Nations conference.
But what could he expect? He built one of the most efficient weapons for close warfare, and there is no doubting that what is going on in México is war. Campbell even named his book Drug War Zone.
Today the weapon is sold in the United States in its semi-automatic form. “[They] are sold over the counter in gun shops to people who are legally able to buy guns.” Lewis explains. If Ramirez was shot at 400 times, even with multiple shooters, it is most likely that that weapons used were fully automatic, he said. “They did not get those guns from here [United States].” Lewis said. Though he does admit that a good gunsmith could take a semi-automatic AK-47 and easily convert it in to a fully automatic gun.
The origin of the guns used in the Mexican drug wars has become an increasingly controversial subject in the United States. On one side you have the Mexican government demanding that the U.S. do more to control the illegal gun flow between the U.S. and México, and on the other hand the United States, which has taken a different stance on the issue. American officials seem to simultaneously be denying that the majority of the guns are American while taking a more aggressive stance against gun trafficking in the U.S.
Regardless of the origins of the gun, it is clear that it AK-47, almost by design, will always be present in the “theater of terror.” Commander Ramirez’s gruesome death was not the first and definitely not the last of the AK-47’s victims in México.