Mexican drug lords getting Arizona guns
PHOENIX ” Violence along the U.S-Mexico border has escalated in the past few months and so have the number of weapons recovered from Arizona, authorities said.
A weapon seized after a drug-war massacre last week at a Mexican border town was sold in Phoenix, according to federal officials.
“There is a war going on, on the border between two cartels. What do they need to fight that war? Guns. Where do they get them? From here,” said William Newell, special agent in charge of the Phoenix division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Last week, 22 people died near the Sonora mining town of Cananea. Drug smugglers killed four police, fled into the mountains and shot it out with Mexican federal authorities in an ensuing daylong battle.
Newell expects the ongoing investigation to reveal that more weapons in the attack were sold in Arizona.
The violence ” and fear that it will spill more onto U.S. soil ” has led the ATF to make it a top priority to curb gunrunning in the Southwest.
Cartel operatives flood Arizona to buy semiautomatic assault rifles, grenades, plastic explosives and rocket launchers in bulk and all are used to fight rival drug smugglers and the Mexican government, according to U.S. court records and criminal investigation reports.
“These are the same weapons you see on the battlefields of Iraq,” ATF Special Agent Tom Mangan said. “The violence on the border has escalated in the last six months, and the number of weapons recovered from Arizona has escalated, our investigations show.”
Mexican gunrunners exploit loopholes in state gun laws and capitalize on the strictness in Mexico.
Guns claim triple the price in Mexico as in the United States because the permits there cost about $1,500 and require the holder to surrender rights against search and seizure.
The expiration in 2004 of the U.S. federal assault-weapons ban left some states, including Arizona and Texas, with no prohibition against buying an unlimited number of semiautomatic rifles at once without paperwork.
In nine ATF investigations of unlicensed dealers last year at Arizona gun shows, agents seized 687 firearms and $45,000 in cash.
Investigators found evidence that an additional 2,300 guns were sold, and they found one receipt for $150,000. One of the local dealers had been selling guns for 20 years without a license.
Newell estimates that about half of those sold in Arizona wind up in Mexico, a quarter find their way to street gangs in California, where the laws are stricter, and a quarter stay with local Arizona criminals.
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com