US Ambassador to Mexico visits Houston, discusses gun trafficking efforts

HOUSTON – The Houston area remains a hotspot for firearms traffickers who are purchasing weapons in the United States to send to the drug cartels in Mexico.

US Ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, visited the Houston Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Tuesday to get an update on cases being made under a new federal law.

“We estimate that about 70 percent of the guns that end up in Mexico are guns that come from the United States of America,” said Salazar.

Two years ago, the ATF established nine firearms trafficking task forces along the southern border. Five of those task forces are in the Houston division, which runs from Beaumont to Laredo. In the past year, both the ATF and federal prosecutors have used a new tool to crack down on traffickers.

“Those guns are the capital of the cartel. They are the tools of their trade, those guns create their power,” said Alamdar Hamdani, US Attorney for the Southern District of Texas.

A component of the Safer Communities Act established the first federal laws against interstate gun trafficking and so-called straw purchases. More than 100 people have been charged under the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act in the year since it took effect. The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas is believed to have won the first conviction against a firearms trafficker under this new law. The conviction involved a US citizen living in Mexico who was sentenced to 80 months in prison.

The Houston division of the ATF has been ground zero for many of the firearms trafficking cases involving Mexico, helping trace guns recovered at crime scenes. Recently the ATF helped determined one of the guns used in the fatal kidnapping of Americans in Matamoros was bought in the US. The ATF’s Houston division alone opened 400 trafficking cases last year and is expected to exceed that number this year.

“Now, for the first time, we actually have federal legislation against straw purchasing and firearms trafficking,” said Fred Milanowski, Special Agent-in-Charge of the ATF’s Houston division.

Salazar said the new law is needed since firearms trafficking is an integral part of the drug and human smuggling seen along our southern border.

“If you have fentanyl, you have human smuggling, most of the time you’re going to have arms trafficking as well,” said Salazar.

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Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”