The first time 14-year-old Brisa Ramirez remembers hearing rifle fire was when a man was shot dead on a Sunday afternoon outside a Catholic church around the corner from her home in Back of the Yards.
She raises her voice to imitate the sharp, metallic bursts. Ta. Ta. Ta. Ta. Ta. It was a foreign sound even in this neighborhood accustomed to gunfire.
“It wasn’t like a normal (shooting). … It was like something more terrible,” Brisa says. “A noise that you can’t really explain.”
Soldiers know the different sounds when an AK-47 or an M16 is fired. It’s something that a 14 year old inner city youth should never hear much less recognize.
The shooting was one of at least 33 in Back of the Yards and Brighton Park over the past nine months that police believe are tied to semi-automatic rifles as several gangs boost their firepower. At least 46 people have been shot in the attacks, 13 fatally.
Police say this is the only area of the city where rifles styled after AR-15s and AK-47s are regularly used, a menacing new development in the gang fights.
It’s unclear how many of the high-powered rifles are on the street, but police suspect they are being passed around by members of four Hispanic gangs in the Deering police district, which covers parts of the South and Southwest sides.
Military grade rounds are much more powerful than a handgun. This upgrade in firepower presents an increased threat to innocent by standers as the round has much greater range and penetration. If this trend continues, expect to see a higher rate of fatalities and woundings of persons who simply are in the path of a stray round.
I have personally collected dozens of nine millimeter casings at the scene of a single shooting incident. If .30 caliber rounds were used instead, there’s no telling how many people could have been shot.
Bullets fired from a US military style rifle have a muzzle velocity as high as 3000+ fps and can penetrate a window or wooden residential wall hundreds of yards from the actual scene of a shooting. While handgun rounds vary greatly, suffice it to say that a projectile fired from one of these rifles has at least twice the range and lethality of a handgun.
A 5.56 mm round fired from an AR-15 (civilian version of the M-16) can travel about 4,000 yards but has an effective range of perhaps 400+ yards. The AK-47 fires a 7.62 X 39 mm cartridge that employs a heavier bullet (122 gr versus 55 or 62 gr for the M-16) and a muzzle velocity of 2300+ fps. But like all weapons, lethality is determined by the person holding the firearm.
And these maniacs are using weapons like this in a densely populated urban setting.