Winning the war against weapons?

October 1, 2009 5:02:04 PM PDT
Federal agents have vastly reduced a backlog of investigative leads and increased the number of criminal cases in Houston in a four-month effort to stop the flow of firearms from the U.S. to Mexican drug cartels, officials announced Thursday. Many weapons seized south of the border are traced back to Houston, where 100 agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other personnel were deployed in April to develop cases on trafficking firearms to Mexico.

The ATF push resulted in the seizure of 443 firearms, more than 141,000 rounds of ammunition and three explosive devices.

Mexico has long tried to get the United States to curtail the number of guns -- many purchased legally -- that wind up with drug cartels. President Barack Obama has pledged the U.S. will do more.

The results of the effort were announced during a news conference with ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson and U.S. Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden.

The additional personnel -- 72 special agents and 28 inspectors, analysts and support staff -- were part of Gun Runner Impact Teams, which help support the ATF's Project Gunrunner, the agency's initiative to reduce the flow of firearms to Mexico.

Melson has said 90 percent of the guns that U.S. officials have traced for Mexican authorities have come from the United States. Of those, most have been traced back to Texas, and within the state most came from the Houston area.

Before the extra personnel came to the ATF's Houston office, which includes southern Texas in its jurisdiction, the field division had a backlog of more than 700 gun-trafficking leads received from firearms dealers and tracing requests from Mexico, according to Melson and Ogden. The additional help produced 400 more leads.

Agents and personnel finished investigating 87 percent of the more than 1,100 leads, Melson and Ogden said.

During the four month period, the Houston ATF office opened 276 new criminal investigations, more than it had in each of the previous three years, the officials said. In 2006, it opened 104 cases; 162 in 2007; and 195 in 2008.

In addition, the ATF office conducted nearly 1,100 inspections of federal firearms licensees in the Houston metro area, also more than in each of the previous three years, according to Melson and Ogden. Houston has about 1,500 gun dealers. The ATF is allowed to inspect firearms dealers once a year to ensure they are complying with federal regulations.

Of these inspections, 77 resulted in warning letters or warning conferences with the licensees and one gun dealer's license was revoked, according to Melson and Ogden.

The effort also led to the seizure of more than $165,000 in cash, five kilograms of cocaine and 1,500 pounds of marijuana, the officials said.

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