U.S. Guns Bolster Mexican Traffickers

Authorities are sounding the alarm about an influx of assault rifles, armor-piercing pistols and fragmentation grenades from the United States, weapons that they say are increasingly being used to kill police and soldiers fighting drug cartels.

U.S. Guns Bolster Mexican Traffickers
U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials report a sharp increase in both the flow and firepower of U.S. weapons across the border. Particularly worrisome are assault rifles and "cop-killer" pistols.

Mexico has strict firearms laws, few gun stores and a mere 4,300 private licensed gun holders among its 105 million people. The United States, with nearly as many guns as people, has more than 100,000 licensed gun sellers, an industry that makes about 2.8 million small arms a year, and gun laws so loose that arms traffickers easily pick up any weapons they need.

Despite Mexico's gun control laws, criminals have long smuggled guns in from the United States.

"The problem is getting bigger because the illegal possession of arms, and their clandestine introduction to our country, combines with narcotics trafficking," said a government report to Mexico's Senate in June.

It said 99.4 percent of the weapons in the hands of Mexican criminals are suspected of coming from the United States.

At least 11,752 U.S.-sold guns have been found in Mexico since January 2003 -- a tiny fraction of what remains on the streets, according to the report.

It did not give figures for previous years. But one indicator of a new gun glut is the fact that hit men drop their guns at crime scenes rather than be caught with them afterward, knowing they are easily replaced, a senior U.S. law enforcement official in Mexico said on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Particularly worrisome are U.S. sales of Belgian-made FN-57 pistols. These fire bullets that "will defeat most body armor in military service around the world today," according to the Remtek weapons site on the Internet. They sell for $800-$1,000 each at dozens of gun stores within a day's drive of the border.

The weapons were unheard of in Mexico until they were used to kill at least a half dozen police officers this year. Among them were Mexico City policemen Felix Perez and Jose Rodriguez, slain in May when a car full of suspected mobsters fired FN-57s whose bullets sliced right through the officers' body armor.

In all, about 100 Mexican officers have been slain since President Felipe Calderon launched an ambitious nationwide crackdown on the drug trade this year.

"U.S. laws allow citizens to have guns that are authentically warlike," Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora complained at a recent news conference. "We have to find a more effective way of stopping these arms from flowing into the country and giving these gangs such significant firepower."

The U.S. Congress has so far resisted these calls. It's particularly easy to buy weapons at the thousands of U.S. gun shows held each year, where the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives stopped checking addresses of gun buyers after the National Rifle Association complained that sales plummeted.

Mexico also wants lawmakers in Washington to loosen restrictions on who can see gun-purchasing data, but that's unlikely given the strong opposition from the NRA.

The U.S. government is now restricted in many cases from sharing such information with local police departments, let alone the Mexican government, making it difficult to trace illegal guns or arrest weapons traffickers.

Mexican officials also complain that U.S. judges give firearms traffickers lighter sentences than drug dealers.

Mexican arms traffickers pay U.S. residents a profit of $20 to $200 per weapon to make purchases, the U.S. official said. The guns are then hidden in car compartments, truckloads of consumer goods and even small planes, crossing into Mexico in the same vehicles that carry cocaine, marijuana and heroin north, the official said.

The ATF says it is fighting the problem by sending more agents to the border and giving Mexico a pack of gun-sniffing Labrador retrievers this year.

U.S. officials also put blame on Mexico, saying officials rarely search southbound traffic along the border. But Mexican customs agents who do are often given a grim choice: "plata o plomo" -- the silver of a bribe, or the lead of a bullet.

In February, Mexican customs agent Jorge Santillan seized a truck crossing from Brownsville, Texas, to Matamoros, Mexico, carrying a grenade launcher and 17 grenades along with 18 rifles and 17 pistols. The shipment allegedly belonged to the Zetas, a feared group of former soldiers-turned-hitmen.

Days later, the agent was shot to death with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

Once inside Mexico, weapons are sold in black-market shops for double the U.S. price.

Mexico City gun enthusiast Daniel Aguilera described illegally buying a submachine gun from vendors in the capital's Tepito barrio who let him test the merchandise on a stack of cans in a tenement building.

"Buying a gun in Mexico is a piece of cake," Aguilera said. "You can get your hands on one in a couple of hours, if you know the right people."

Last Mod: 16 Ağustos 2007, 11:18
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