Storage Locker Yields 42 Weapons
POSTED: 8:01 pm MST December 27, 2007
UPDATED: 7:08 pm MST December 28, 2007
PHOENIX -- Spread across a conference table at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix are enough weapons to equip several car loads of drug runners.
Agents said Thursday they found the 42 weapons in a storage locker about 10 days ago. The guns were worth $250,000 in all: Belgian-made "FN" handguns, semiautomatic AK rifles and other pistols. They also found four olive boxes loaded with 50-caliber bullets -- ammunition that's big enough to take out an airplane
."These are, quite frankly, weapons of war,"
ATF special agent Tom Mangan said as he picked up an assault rifle and examined it.
"The type of fire power you're seeing here is on the increase," he said. "You're seeing sophisticated weapons, military weapons, assault type weapons, assault pistols, very expensive pistols."
ATF officials said gun runners typically gather large caches of weapons anonymously through "straw" purchases. They might give someone $100 to go into a gun show or a Wal-Mart and buy a few rifles at a time. They might buy guns over the Internet.
Some of those guns end up in the hands of California gangs or with coyotes herding illegal immigrants into the U.S. But Mangan said a majority of the guns are smuggled into Mexico for use by drug dealers.
Mangan said this year the ATF Phoenix office learned that about 300 assault-type weapons were brought south on one occasion, and another 200 assault-type weapons were smuggled on a separate occasion.
"Certainly, these narcoterrorist organizations, these drug organizations have unlimited source of income, and it's just a matter of getting these guns," Mangan said. "And where do they get these guns? They get them here."
Jim Needles, an ATF agent who was recently transferred to Arizona from New York, said he was alarmed by the kind of weapons agents are finding here.
"You see a lot of firearms seized in New York, but not that sophisticated type of weapon," he said. "You don't see AK-47s. You don't see the 50-caliber type of weapons."
Raul Saavedra, deputy counsul at the Mexican Consulate in Douglas, Ariz., said he didn't have data to back up ATF's claim that gun-running is on the rise. But he said the Mexican government has recognized it as a huge problem.
"A lot of the drug violence comes through weapons, and those weapons are bought in the U.S.," Saavedra said.
The Mexican government has called on the United States to stop the flow of guns into the country, he said, but America's firearms laws make it hard to stop gun running.
"What's been useful is there has been a lot of cooperation" between the countries to stem the gun trade, Saavedra said.
"If weapons are seized in Mexico, they pass that information to U.S. authorities, and they can track that number to where it was bought, and they can at least confirm if the sale was done legally," he added.
The weapons recently seized by the ATF are among 111 guns the Phoenix office collected this month. Mangan wouldn't provide details about where they were found and where they were headed. The ATF is still investigating the incident, he said.