By guest contributor Luciano Martucci*

The trend of drug lords having solid gold-plated guns has garnered much attention and controversy in recent years. From Instagram posts to movies and TV shows, the image of drug lords wielding gold-plated guns has become a symbol of their opulence and power. But what is the meaning behind this trend, and why do drug lords choose to adorn their guns with precious metals?

To understand the appeal of gold-plated guns, we must first understand the psychology of drug lords. These drug lords are not just in the business of selling drugs, but also of power and influence. Their wealth and status are not just measured in dollars and pesos, but also in the respect and fear they command from those around them. In this context, gold-plated guns become a way for drug lords to assert their dominance and signal their wealth and power.

Gold has always been associated with luxury, wealth, and power. It has been used to adorn almost everything. In this context, gold-plated guns become a natural extension of this tradition. Drug lords see themselves as modern-day kings, and their gold-plated guns are a way to signal their royal status.

But gold-plated guns are not just a symbol of wealth and power, which is why drug lords prefer high-caliber guns; they also serve a practical purpose. Gold is a very durable metal that does not corrode or rust, making it ideal for firearms. The gold plating also provides a protective layer that helps prevent wear on the gun’s components. For drug lords, who rely on their guns to protect and defend themselves, having a durable and aesthetically pleasing gun is a necessity.

The trend of gold-plated guns has also been fueled by popular culture. Movies and TV shows like Scarface, Narcos, and Breaking Bad have portrayed drug lords as flashy and extroverted, with a taste for the finer things in life. The imagery of Santa Muerte has also influenced the decoration of these guns, with the image of the saint often displayed on the gun’s grips, used by many drug lords as a symbol of devotion and protection.

The New Religious Movement of Santa Muerte has become increasingly popular among drug lords in recent years. Santa Muerte is a Mexican folk saint that arises from the mixture of Indigenous and Catholic beliefs, often associated with death, protection, and miracles. Many drug lords consider her a powerful ally and protector in their dangerous work, and adorn their gold-plated guns with her image as a symbol of devotion and protection.

The New Religious Movement of Santa Muerte is controversial, with some the Catholic Church in Mexico frequently condemning it as a form of devil worship. However, the NRM continues to gain followers among those seeking protection and miracles in their daily lives, particularly in Mexico and across the Americas. These depictions have helped popularize the image of the gold-plated gun and led narcos to adopt it as a symbol of power and intimidation.

However, the trend of gold-plated weapons has also been subject to criticism and controversy. Some argue that it glorifies drug trafficking and promotes a culture of violence and illegality. Others point out that it is a waste of resources that could be better used to improve the lives of people in communities affected by drug trafficking.

Thousands of police officers are engaged in the fight against drugs, often seizing weapons and arresting members of drug cartels, among which there are weapons adorned with images of saints, which are kept in a particular place. In Mexico City, there is a museum called the Museo de Enervantes – a technical-bureaucratic name that translates as the Drug Museum – but everyone knows it as the Narco Museum. Inside, there is a vast collection of equipment used by drug traffickers to package and transport “merchandise.” Hidden within the vast complex of the Mexican National Defense Ministry, the headquarters of the Mexican army, whose visitors are nearly twenty thousand soldiers who fight on the front line against drug cartels every day, journalists and tourists rarely access it. The Narco Museum displays amulets, fetishes, cell phones, and gold-plated or gemstone-studded weapons, or weapons decorated with religious figures. Among the exhibited weapons are the infamous Kalashnikov rifles, which drug lords affectionately call cuernos de chivo (goat horns) because of the curved shape of the magazines; they are mainly produced in Eastern Europe.

The most venerated is the pistol of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, also known as “El Señor de los Cielos,” the leader of the infamous Juarez cartel. It is said that he gave his pistol as a gift to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the incarcerated leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. The pistol is a Colt, with a solid gold-plated handle studded with 22 emeralds and 389 diamonds arranged to form his initials. Another highlight of the museum is an AR-15 rifle belonging to Héctor Luis Palma Salazar, also known as “El Güero” or “El Güero Palma,” one of the early leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, along with El Chapo Guzmán.

The trend of gold-plated weapons is not limited to drug lords, as it has also been observed among other high-profile individuals such as celebrities and politicians. However, the use of gold-plated weapons by drug lords adds a new layer of controversy and danger to this trend, as it highlights the close connection between wealth, power, and violence in the world of drug trafficking.

*Luciano Martucci, is a freelance anthropologist who focuses on shamanism, traditional medicine. and the religious diversity of Latin America. He has written several articles and published "Il Gauchito Gil, da bandito a santo” and “ Yo soy del San, el culto a San La Muerte.”

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