ATF Criminal Investigations At Gun Shows
From 2004 to 2006, ATF conducted surveillance and undercover investigations at 195 gun shows (approximately 2% of all shows). Specific targeting of suspected individuals (77%) resulted in 121 individual arrests and 5,345 firearms seizures. Seventy nine of the 121 ATF operation plans were known suspects previously under investigation.
Additionally, ATF Field Offices report that:
- Between 2002 and 2005, more than 400 guns legally purchased at gun shows from licensed dealers in the city of Richmond, Virginia, were later recovered in connection with criminal activity. Bouchard notes that, "These figures do not take into account firearms that may have been sold at Richmond area gun shows by unlicensed sellers, as these transactions are more difficult to track." It is noteworthy that the "in connection with criminal activity" category includes stolen guns later recovered from burglaries, but the report does not specify how many guns in the 400 gun figure cited were not guns used in the commission of a crime, but that were rather the fruits of criminal activity.
- The Department of Justice reports, "after reviewing hundreds of trace reports associated with guns used in crime recovered in the New Orleans area and interviewing known gang members and other criminals, ATF Special Agents identified area gun shows as a source used by local gang members and other criminals to obtain guns."
- In 2003 and 2004, the San Francisco ATF Field Division conducted six general operations at Reno, Nevada, gun shows to investigate interstate firearms trafficking. During these operations, "agents purchased firearms and identified violations related to "off paper" sales, sales to out-of-state residents, and dealing in firearms without a license." The "ATF seized or purchased 400 firearms before making arrests and executing search warrants, which resulted in the seizure of an additional 600 firearms and the recovery of explosives."
- ATF's Columbus Field Division conducted its anti-trafficking operations based on intelligence from Cleveland police that "many of the guns recovered in high-crime areas of the city had been purchased at local gun shows." Subsequent gun show sting operations resulted in the seizure of "5 guns, one indictment, and two pending indictments for felony possession of a firearm." The state of Ohio is one of the top ten source states for recovered guns used in crime.
- The ATF's Phoenix Field Division reported that "many gun shows attracted large numbers of gang members from Mexico and California. They often bought large quantities of assault weapons and smuggled them into Mexico or transported them to California." Garen Wintemute, a professor at the University of California at Davis, calls Arizona and Texas a "gunrunner's paradise."
Regarding the trafficking of firearms from the U.S. into Mexico, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report in June 2009 which stated: “While it is impossible to know how many firearms are illegally smuggled into Mexico in a given year, about 87 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and traced in the last 5 years originated in the United States, according to data from Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). According to U.S. and Mexican government officials, these firearms have been increasingly more powerful and lethal in recent years. Many of these firearms come from gun shops and gun shows in Southwest border states.”
The GAO report has been corroborated through other sources. William Newell, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division, testified before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in March 2009, stating, “Drug traffickers are able to obtain firearms and ammunition more easily in the U.S., including sources in the secondary market such as gun shows and flea markets. Depending on State law, the private sale of firearms at those venues often does not require record keeping or background checks prior to the sale.” The ATF has also reported that, “Trends indicate the firearms illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are becoming more powerful. ATF has analyzed firearms seizures in Mexico from FY 2005-07 and identified the following weapons most commonly used by drug traffickers: 9mm pistols; .38 Super pistols; 5.7mm pistols; .45-caliber pistols; AR-15 type rifles; and AK-47 type rifles.” However, this is based only on the weapons sent to the ATF to be traced, a small portion of all firearms seized by the Mexican government, and the extent to which they are representative of all seized firearms is disputed. According to Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, "Mexico's southern border with Guatemala has long been an entry point for such weapons and today could account for 10 to 15 percent coming through." William La Jeunesse and Maxim Lott have described Mexico as a "virtual arms bazaar," where one can purchase a wide variety of military weapons from international sources: "fragmentation grenades from South Korea, AK-47s from China, and shoulder-fired rocket launchers from Spain, Israel and former Soviet bloc manufacturers." In addition, they note that Mexican drug cartels have long-established drug- and gun-running ties with Latin American revolutionary movements such as Colombia's FARC. Further, China has supplied military arms to Latin America and Chinese-made assault weapons have been recovered in Mexico, according to Amnesty International. Finally, the Mexican army has seen rampant desertion rates (150,000 in the last six years) and many soldiers have taken their weapons home with them, including Belgian-made M16s.
Additionally, skeptics have pointed out that it would be difficult for the Mexican drug cartels to acquire fully automatic firearms at American gun shows (as opposed to the semiautomatic-only versions of these firearms that are legal on the U.S. civilian market). To purchase or transfer a fully automatic firearm legally, U.S. citizens must pay a $200 transfer tax, submit a full set of fingerprints on FBI Form FD-258, obtain certification provided by a chief law enforcement officer ("CLEO": the local chief of police, sheriff of the county, head of the State police, or State or local district attorney or prosecutor), and obtain final approval from the BATF on a Form 4 transfer of NFA registration to the new owner.In addition, only fully automatic firearms manufactured before the Firearm Owner's Protection Act of 1986 are permitted to be transferred. No fully automatic firearms (machine guns) recovered in Mexico have been traced to the United States.
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