Q&A: Gang Arms

hi i’m writing a story set in the present day and my MC is part of a street gang. realistically, what kinds of weapons would they have?

This is heavily dependent on where the gang is based, and how connected they are. For example: a street gang in the UK or Hong Kong won’t have access to firearms the way a gang in south central LA will. Really won’t, but we

When creating any organization, with armed members, you need to ask, “what could my characters realistically get their hands on?” There a lot of relevant factors. Does the organization have a centralized armory, and the ability to buy equipment (including weapons) for its members? Does it enjoy official sanction that allows it (or its members) to obtain restricted (police/military) weapons? Is there money to buy gear? What’s available on the market?

When we’re talking about a street gang a lot of those choices are made for you, and the primary consideration, “what’s available, and what can they afford?”

In countries with strict firearms regulations, guns are going to be expensive, and rare, on the black market. This also requires that your gang has access to black marketeers, which isn’t a certainty. At that point, you might have individual members who have firearms, but those are probably going to be relatively senior members, and probably ones with ties to organized crime. It’s also distinctly possible that even if a character does have access to firearms, they might not carry them because the weapon itself will bring too much attention from local law enforcement.

Conversely, if you have a nation that was a warzone, or where a previous military regime collapsed, black market weapons could be very common. I’m thinking former Warsaw Pact states here, though, it’s also true elsewhere. At that point, it would be entirely plausible that gang members would have access to things like AK variants.

It’s difficult to generalize because, we’re talking about the entire world, and there are a lot of factors. So, if you have place in mind, I’d suggest you research crime in that area. In the modern era of Google, there a lot of resources. I’ve got an academic paper on gang violence in modern Australia open in the other window right now. Probably not relevant for you, but this information is out there.

In the US, you’d usually expect to see a mix of low end civilian weapons. Things like cheap handguns and shotguns. That said, even in the States, you can start to get into some unusual territory.

Historically there have been a lot of, “join the military or go to prison,” stories. There’s truth to this, and it was used as an alternative sentencing option in the past. In recent years, this has fallen out of favor, and while some courts may attempt to offer military service as an alternative sentence, these, “recruits,” are now expressly forbidden by most branches of the US Armed Services.

We’re still living with the fallout of this. Because of their experience in the military, some gang members in the US received advanced combat training, and developed connections that allowed them to procure military grade hardware after they filtered back into civilian life, and rejoined their gangs. So, while your average street gang wouldn’t have an M249 floating around, it’s not impossible they’d have someone with the hardware, training, and ability to instruct others in its use.

Another possible factor is organised crime connections, though this has less effect than you might expect. If you have a street gang that’s working with an organized syndicate, you might see a slight shift in their hardware, but it wouldn’t be particularly drastic. This because organized crime and black market weapons aren’t, really, synonymous. Both gangs, and organized crime benefit from a robust network of black market arms dealers, but neither one really runs that. Arms dealers are their own factor. However, gang members may have access to a better quality of black marketeer if their gang is working with a syndicate, and more cash to spend on their weapons.

Remember that gangs are opportunists. If a gang member gets their hands on a high-end tactical handgun, they’re probably going to keep and use that. So, while I said they’d probably have a mix of cheap weapons, that’s because they could afford (or easily steal) those. But, there is a real possibility for some diversity, particularly if they’re operating in more upscale areas.

Some gangs have started recruiting upper middle-class latchkey kids, via social media. This means you may, rarely, encounter gang members who have much better quality hardware available to them. Either, because they stole their parent’s gun, or because they helped their gang knock over one of their neighbors, and found it when tossing the place. (This is also possible if you have a gang that’s aggressively expanding its territory.)

For gang members, or most criminals really, the handgun is ideal. It’s easy to conceal and useful in close quarters. It doesn’t matter that they’re low power; you’re not going to be using them against armored foes. Also, you’re not going to be engaging at long range, so that limitation doesn’t matter.

So, it really matters where your fictional gang is located, and what its resources are.

-Starke

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