Houston a focus for Mexican cartel gun purchases
...We should be squeezing these guys here, but it is a mistake to think that most of the weapons are coming from here. None of the heavy weapons are available for purchase in the US and more and more of the criminal insurgents are using the heavier weapons. I think those weapons are coming from South and Central America. As we squeeze them more here, I expect they will get even more of their weapons from sources outside the US. But the disruption caused by the program should be useful and may give us the chance to put away more members of the cartel. That is an opportunity worth seizing.
The initiative places new agents in Houston to quickly expand Project Gunrunner, a federal effort to staunch the illegal flow of guns into Mexico. A “large majority” of 100 federal gun agents being transferred to the border region in the next 45 days will be assigned to monitor purchases at the 1,500 gun stores in the Houston area, a federal official confirmed.
“Houston is one of the major trafficking routes to Mexico and has the convenience of the number of firearm dealers in this large city,” said Franceska Perot, agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco and Explosives in Houston. “Probably the majority of the sources of firearms recovered in crimes in Mexico are through straw purchases in Houston.”
Straw purchases are seemingly legal sales of firearms to qualified customers who claim the weapon is for their use, but who bought the gun for a trafficker.
The extent of the challenge also was highlighted in Brownsville this week, where a federal judge sentenced 13 residents who were recruited by a trafficking ring to buy 77 weapons that were transported into Mexico.
ATF is trying to bring down at least three Houston cells it contends supply weapons to the Gulf Cartel, according to documents filed in local U.S. District Court.
In addition to 100 agents transferred to Houston and the border, ATF will hire and train new agents to staff additional offices opening this year along the southwest border, including at facilities in El Centro, Calif., Las Cruces, N.M, Brownsville and a second office in McAllen, said Perot.
“We need more agents down here because we have a major problem with straw purchases,” said Elias Bazan, agent in charge of the McAllen ATF office. “To keep up with the leads we have to follow this is going to be a big help.”