Law enforcement officials in 34 jurisdictions report that the majority of gang-related crime is committed with firearms.


  1. Over 60% of all gun violence is directly attributable to gangs and gang related enterprise such as drug smuggling and distribution.
  2. Please read this.
  3. Now that you’ve read it, do you honestly believe that magazine restrictions and a weapon’s ban will alter the tide of gun violence?

Source: 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment – Emerging Trends

Gang members acquire firearms through a variety of means, including illegal purchases; straw purchases through surrogates or middle-men; thefts from individuals, vehicles, residences and commercial establishments; theft from law enforcement and military officials, from gang members with connections to military sources of supply, and from other gangs, according to multiple law enforcement and NGIC reporting.

Gang members are becoming more sophisticated and methodical in their methods of acquiring and purchasing firearms. Gang members often acquire their firearms through theft or through a middleman, often making a weapons trace more difficult.

Enlisted military personnel are also being utilized by gang members as a ready source for weapons.

  • In November 2010, three former US Marines were arrested in Los Angeles, California, for selling illegal assault weapons to Florencia 13 gang members, according to open source reporting.47
  • In November 2010, a US Navy Seal from San Diego and two others were arrested in Colorado for smuggling at least 18 military issued machine guns and 14 other firearms from Iraq and Afghanistan into the United States for sale and shipment to Mexico, according to open source reporting.48

Gang members are employing countermeasures to monitor, intercept, and target law enforcement, sometimes with elaborate weapons and devices.

  • In February 2010, a Riverside County gang task force officer in California was nearly killed when suspected members of a White Supremacist gang rigged a zip gun on a gang task force security fence to discharge if anyone entered their property (see Figure 16). In December 2009, the same group staged a natural gas explosion at their property intended for law enforcement entering the premises.49

Figure 16. Zip gun attached to the fence of a Gang Task Force in Hemet, CA

zip gun attached to fence

Source: ATF

Gang Members Targeting Law Enforcement Vehicles for Weapons

In 2009, suspected gang members in Broward County and West Palm Beach, Florida burglarized nearly a dozen marked and unmarked law enforcement vehicles stealing firearms, ballistic vests, and police identification.

Source: FBI-NGIC, “Gangs Targeting Law Enforcement for Weapons and Equipment Theft; Intelligence Bulletin; 21 December 2009

Gangs and White-Collar Crime

NGIC reporting indicates that gangs are becoming more involved in white-collar crime, including identity theft, bank fraud, credit card fraud, money laundering, fencing stolen goods, counterfeiting, and mortgage fraud, and are recruiting members who possess those skill sets. Law enforcement officials nationwide indicate that many gangs in their jurisdiction are involved in some type of white-collar crime.

  • NGIC reporting indicates that the Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, Latin Kings, Mexican Mafia, Sureños, Norteños, La Nuestra Familia, Texas Syndicate, Aryan Brotherhood, various OMG and Asian gangs, and neighborhood-based gangs are engaging in white-collar crime.

Many gang members are engaging in counterfeiting because of its low risks and high financial rewards.

  • In July 2010, a Florencia 13 gang member in Los Angeles was arrested for operating a lab from his home that manufactured pirated video games.50
  • In April 2010, a member of the East Coast Crips was arrested in Los Angeles, California, for the sale of counterfeit goods and drug trafficking at a clothing store he co-owned. Police confiscated 824 counterfeit items from the store worth $43,762.51

Gang members are laundering profits from criminal activities such as drug trafficking and prostitution, through front companies such music businesses, beauty shops, auto repair shops, law firms, and medical offices.

  • Members of the Black Guerilla Family in Maryland used pre-paid retail debit cards as virtual currency inside Maryland prisons to purchase drugs and further the gangs’ interests, according to August 2010 open source reporting.52

Some gangs, such as the Bloods and Gangster Disciples, are committing sophisticated mortgage fraud schemes by purchasing properties with the intent to receive seller assistance loans and, ultimately retain the proceeds from the loans, or to comingle illicit funds through mortgage payments. Gang members are also exploiting vulnerabilities in the banking and mortgage industries for profit.

  • According to open source reporting, in April 2009, members of the Bloods in San Diego, California were charged with racketeering and mortgage fraud.53

Law Enforcement Actions and Resources

Gang units and task forces are a vital component in targeting gangs and have played a substantial role in mitigating gang activity in a number of US communities. The majority of NGIC law enforcement partners report that their agency has or participates in a gang task force, and most utilize a gang database to track and monitor gang members in their jurisdictions. There are 168 FBI Violent Gang Task Forces in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. In addition, ATF operates 31 Violent Crime Impact Teams (VCIT) and ICE operates eight Operation Community Shield (OCS) Initiatives nationwide (see Appendix C). The collaboration and coordination of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies has resulted in a number of successes involving gang suppression efforts.

NGIC law enforcement partners in at least 107 jurisdictions report that law enforcement action has resulted in a decrease of gangs or gang activity in their region.

  • In March 2011, officials from DHS, CBP, ICE, ATF, and local San Diego police were involved in the arrest of over 67 gang members and associates for drugs and cross-border crimes in the San Diego, California area. Operation Allied Shield III, a part of a San Diego County initiative to focus on prevention, detection, and suppression of crimes in areas impacted by border-related crime, aimed to seize drugs and weapons and to identify and observe gang members in a proactive way.54
  • In March 2011, 35 leaders, members, and associates of the Barrio Azteca gang in Texas were charged in a federal indictment for various counts of racketeering, murder, drug offenses, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Ten subjects were charged with the March 2010 murders of a US Consulate employee, her husband, and the husband of another consulate employee, in Juarez, Mexico.55
  • In February 2011, FBI, ATF, ICE, and DHS, and numerous state and local officials charged 41 gang members and associates from several different gangs in five districts with multiple offenses, including racketeering conspiracy, murder, drug and gun trafficking. The indictment involved members from the Click Clack gang in Kansas City, Missouri; the Colonias Chiques gang in Los Angeles; the Sureno 13 and San Chucos gangs in Las Vegas; MS-13 in Washington; and 13 Tri-City Bomber members and associates in the McAllen, Texas area.56


Street, prison, and motorcycle gang membership and criminal activity continues to flourish in US communities where gangs identify opportunities to control street level drug sales, and other profitable crimes. Gangs will not only continue to defend their territory from rival gangs, but will also increasingly seek to diversify both their membership and their criminal activities in recognition of potential financial gain. New alliances between rival gangs will likely form as gangs suspend their former racial ideologies in pursuit of mutual profit. Gangs will continue to evolve and adapt to current conditions and law enforcement tactics, diversify their criminal activity, and employ new strategies and technology to enhance their criminal operations, while facilitating lower-risk and more profitable schemes, such as white-collar crime.

The expansion of communication networks, especially in wireless communications and the Internet, will allow gang members to form associations and alliances with other gangs and criminal organizations—both domestically and internationally—and enable gang members to better facilitate criminal activity and enhance their criminal operations discreetly without the physical interfacing once necessary to conduct these activities.

Changes in immigrant populations, which are susceptible to victimization and recruitment by gangs, may have the most profound effect on street gang membership. Continued drug trafficking-related violence along the US Southwest border could trigger increased migration of Mexicans and Central Americans into the United States and, as such, provide a greater pool of victims, recruits, and criminal opportunities for street gangs as they seek to profit from the illegal drug trade, alien smuggling, and weapons trafficking. Likewise, increased gang recruitment of youths among the immigrant population may result in an increase in gang membership and gang-related violence in a number of regions.

Street gang activity and violence may also increase as more dangerous gang members are released early from prison and re-establish their roles armed with new knowledge and improved techniques. Prison gang members, already an ideal target audience for radicalization, may expand their associations with foreign gang members or radical criminal organizations, both inside correctional institutions and in the community upon their release.

Gang members armed with high-powered weapons and knowledge and expertise acquired from employment in law enforcement, corrections, or the military may pose an increasing nationwide threat, as they employ these tactics and weapons against law enforcement officials, rival gang members, and civilians.

Globalization, socio-political change, technological advances, and immigration will result either in greater gang expansion and gang-related crime or displace gang members as they search for criminal opportunities elsewhere. Stagnant or poor economic conditions in the United States, including budget cuts in law enforcement, may undercut gang dismantlement efforts and encourage gang expansion as police agencies redirect their resources and disband gang units and taskforces, as reported by a large number of law enforcement agencies.

Maps: Estimated Gang Presence in the United States
Map 1. Estimated Gang Presence per Capita by State


Source: NGIC and NDIC 2010 National Drug Survey Data and
U.S. Census Population estimates 2010

Map 2. Estimated Gang Presence per Law Enforcement Officer by State


Source: NGIC and NDIC 2010 National Drug Survey Data and
Bureau of Justice Statistics census of state and local law enforcement 2008

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