Dane Schiller, Houston Chronicle, June 30, 2009
Success on the front lines of a government blitz on gunrunners supplying Mexican drug cartels with Houston weaponry hinges on logging heavy miles and knocking on countless doors. Dozens of agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives–sent here from around the country–are needed to follow what ATF acting director Kenneth Melson described as a “massive number of investigative leads.”
All told, Mexican officials in 2008 asked federal agents to trace the origins of more than 7,500 firearms recovered at crime scenes in Mexico. Most of them were traced back to Texas, California and Arizona.
Among other things, the agents are combing neighborhoods and asking people about suspicious purchases as well as seeking explanations as to how their guns ended up used in murders, kidnappings and other crimes in Mexico.
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The ATF recently dispatched 100 veteran agents to its Houston division, which reaches to the border.
The mission is especially challenging because, officials say, that while Houston is the number one point of origin for weapons traced back to the United States from Mexico, the government can’t compile databases on gun owners under federal law.
Agents instead review firearms dealers’ records in person.
People who are legally in the United States and have clean criminal records, but are facing economic problems are often recruited by traffickers to buy weapons on their behalf in order to shield themselves from scrutiny.
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On second thought, Sloan [an ATF agent] switched to Spanish and interviewed a neighbor.
The night before, the duo were in a stakeout where they watched a weapons sale.
They also combined efforts with the Drug Enforcement Administration for an aircraft to stealthily follow traffickers to the border.
On this day, agents weren’t wearing raid jackets or combat boots and weren’t armed with warrants.