With drug violence raging in Mexico, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says a surge in federal agents in Arizona has helped the United States recover about 1,300 firearms in the last 100 days, many of them believed bound for Mexico.
Federal law enforcement officials say the success is prompting the ATF to roll out similar techniques in seven additional cities believed to be hotbeds for gun traffickers.
The current operation involved the deployment of a Project Gun Runner Impact Team (GRIT) to combat the deadly flow of weapons from the United States to Mexico's ongoing drug war, which has left more than 28,000 people dead since 2006.
According to U.S. officials, a majority of the guns seized in Mexican crimes are found to be sold in the United States by gun stores in Texas, California and Arizona.
A recent report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns that used ATF data revealed that, "from 2006 to 2009, nearly 19,000 traced crime guns were originally sold in the U.S. and recovered and traced to Mexican crimes."
Significantly fewer guns are moving through New Mexico, ATF sources said, but drug traffickers and gunrunners are beginning to increase border crossings in the state as violence rages in Mexican cities such as Ciudad Juarez and as southbound screenings are bolstered in some areas.
The approximately 1,300 firearms the ATF recovered in Arizona as part of its operation over the past three months included an array of AK-47-style weapons, 71,000 rounds of ammunition and drugs.
"We are fighting on a crucial front here today to reduce violence in our own communities, and to disrupt and dismantle the southbound supply of weapons to the cartels," U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke said in a prepared statement today.
As part of a recent emergency supplemental funding bill for border security, the ATF will establish similar teams in seven cities considered parts of significant gun trafficking routes -- Atlanta; Dallas; Brownsville, Texas; Las Vegas; Miami; Oklahoma City; and Sierra Vista, Arizona.
The first Gunrunner Impact Team was established in Houston last year after and operated in the region for 120 days, resulting in about 430 weapons being recovered. The idea to establish that team followed an ATF finding in 2007 that more than 330 firearms from the Houston area had been smuggled into Mexico, according to ATF officials. The weapons were traced to multiple crimes including the deaths of 18 law enforcement officers and civilians in Mexico.
During 2006, ATF established Project Gunrunner as the agency noticed an increase in weapons being used in gun crimes as Mexico's drug cartels began to fight against each other.
Mexican authorities have asked U.S. officials to increase enforcement on gun crimes in the United States and have urged the Obama administration to reinstitute the assault weapons ban.
Attorney General Eric Holder broached the idea of renewing the ban in February 2009, saying, "I think that will have a positive impact in Mexico, at a minimum."
More recently, there has been less talk of reinstituting the ban, which is opposed by many.