Thousands of smuggled guns helping fuel drug cartel turf war

HIDALGO – NEWSCHANNEL 5 has discovered gun running has become a big moneymaker for criminals.

They’re buying guns legally in the United States, then sneaking them into Mexico for big profits.

Recent shoot-outs in Reynosa and Rio Bravo were most likely fueled by guns bought in the United States.

Gun experts say most smugglers purchase the weapons at gun shows where federal rules are more relaxed.

NEWSCHANNEL 5 went undercover to a gun show in Pharr, posing as a private dealer. We took a FN-57, often called a “Cop Killer,” because it fires armor-piercing bullets. We had no problem finding buyers, due to it’s popularity.

Another method gun runners use is what’s call a “straw purchase.” That’s when gun smugglers use other people to buy their weapons for them.

Buying guns in Texas is simple and legal. But in Mexico there’s a lot of paperwork, and the wait could be years before you’re approved.

With demand so high due to the four-year long turf battle between the Gulf Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel, gun smuggling is a profitable business.

Criminal organizations are willing to pay top up to $1,000 above retail price for guns. Meaning with just a cargo of 10 guns, the smuggler can make up to $10,000 profit.

Security expert Fred Burton tells NEWSCHANNEL 5 gun running isn’t just a problem for Mexico. He says it also puts people in the Valley in danger.

“You have Zeta hitmen coming into the U.S. carrying out attacks. You have cartels coming into the U.S. doing cross-border abductions. I think the problem is much larger than people want to admit,” says Burton.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Fire Arms, and Explosives are the ones who try and stop the flow of illegal weapons.

Michael Sullivan, the acting director of the ATF, says they spend a lot of time tracking the illegal guns back to who sold them.

He says Mexico submitted 12,000 guns for tracing from 2005 to 2007 alone.

“The sheer volume of the numbers, I don’t know. I suspect it’s substantial,” says Sullivan.

Sullivan also tells NEWSCHANNEL 5 the ATF just launched a new initiative to slow the flow of weapons into Mexico.

Dubbed “Project Gunrunner,” it will add an additional 50 agents to handle the border.

NEWSCHANNEL 5 tried to contact several Mexican law enforcement agencies for this investigation, but none of them would comment.

They did say there’s a lot of frustration in their country due to lax gun laws in the U.S., which undermine their efforts to restrict gun ownership.

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